By David Koenig, AP Airlines Writer
DALLAS (AP) — Southwest Airlines Co., which bumped more passengers than any U.S. carrier last year, has been fined $200,000 for violating rules on kicking passengers off oversold flights.
The Transportation Department said Tuesday that it reviewed passenger complaints and found many cases of Southwest failing to promptly pay bumped passengers and give them written notices of their rights.
Airlines are allowed to sell more seats than they have because some passengers don't show up.
In other businesses, that would violate laws against deceptive sales tactics. Airlines get a break under the theory that they can offer lower fares if they don't get stuck with empty seats because of no-shows.
Last year, Southwest bumped 13,113 passengers — 80% more than the next closest carrier. However, Southwest carried the most U.S. passengers, and travelers faced a greater chance of being bumped on some other airlines, with American's regional affiliate, American Eagle, being the worst.
Federal rules require airlines to first ask for volunteers who will give up their seats in exchange for compensation. After that, airlines can begin to bump passengers who bought tickets. Most passengers bumped from flights are entitled to up to $800 in cash.
Airlines are required to give bumped passengers a written statement detailing their rights and explaining how the airline decides who gets bumped when flights are oversold.
The airlines can offer travel vouchers but only after telling the passengers that they are entitled to get cash or a check instead, and the amount that they're owed.