Maybe Wait To Sue Southwest For Failing To Issue Refunds Until They Actually Fail To Issue Refunds?

There’s already a class action lawsuit against Southwest Airlines over its operational meltdown. It’s not customers suing for missing their loved ones over the holidays, failing to make important surgery appointments, or breaking up marriages because of the stress at the airport.

Instead, the claim is that Southwest Airlines is refusing to refund some passengers. The debacle only happened a week ago. Maybe people should wait for Southwest to fail to refund tickets because suing them for failing to refund tickets?

  • Anyone whose flight was cancelled is entitled to a refund. Period.
  • Southwest doesn’t dispute this.
  • And they’re promising to reimburse reasonable documented costs for hotel, meals, and alternate transportation.
  • Customers have even been receiving 25,000 Rapid Rewards points as an apology.

The main plaintiff here claims he could only get a flight credit for a December 27 connecting flight from New Orleans to Portland. If both flight segments operated, and they chose not to travel, that’s plausible – although the odds of both flights operating on a day when two thirds of the airline’s schedule was dumped proactively seem low.

Someone who bought a United Airlines ticket may get that ticket reimbursed and get their Southwest ticket refunded. Maybe that doesn’t make up for the hassle, but they could come out cash positive.

To be sure, that wasn’t Southwest’s initial position. But they quickly found religion once Mayor Pete went on TV. Here’s a front line employee disputing Southwest was obligated to do anything early on:

Flight cancelled. No flight for three days. No voucher, no compensation. #Southwest says it's not subject to Department of Transportation when cancelling. pic.twitter.com/IsSGOT6x5U

— b (@thelamiam) December 26, 2022

Here’s the thing. An airline agent isn’t the final word. If a customer submitted a request for a refund of a cancelled flight and was denied that would be one thing. It’s probably an error, and errors will happen given the volume of requests they’re processing. That is what responding to the mistaken denial is for.

If errors are systematic there could be a lawsuit. But it’s only been a week there hasn’t been an opportunity to fail to reimburse very many people yet.

I’m all for suing airlines. I suggested it as the best way to get a refund from Air Canada. I have argued for years that common law contract claims against the airlines need to be permitted. I just figure we ought to give airlines an opportunity to actually do the thing you’re suing over before actually filing suit.

(HT: @crucker)

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