DOT Fines Southwest for Stiffing Complainers

Guess which U.S. airline was fined $150,000 for its inadequate response to customer complaints.

Unless you guessed Southwest—and you probably didn't—you guessed wrong.

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Yesterday, the DOT fined Southwest $150,000 for "not responding in a timely manner to complaints filed by consumers, including passengers with disabilities, and for not adequately responding to the passengers' specific complaints in its responses."

That's right, Southwest. The airline that hangs its hat on its affable, customer-friendly demeanor. The airline whose designator on the New York Stock Exchange is LUV. Perhaps the last airline you'd expect to be brought up on charges of gross indifference to its customers.

The DOT's news release quotes Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood as follows: "When airlines receive complaints from passengers, we expect them to provide prompt responses that appropriately answer the specific complaints."

All companies suffer from occasional service meltdowns. But in Southwest's case, the lapse comes at a time when the company seems intent on reinventing itself, abandoning its folksy roots and fee-free ways in favor of the stick-it-to-the-customer business practices of the mainline carriers it used to ridicule. The indifference shown by the customer-relations department may be a symptom of a corporate-wide shift in focus.

The new Southwest. You're still free to move about the country. But it'll cost you more to do so. And if you have a gripe, you're free to express it. Just don't expect a timely response.

Reader Reality Check

Is the Southwest of today the same airline we've learned to love over the years?

This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.

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