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Southwest Airlines faces lawsuit after mass cancellations

The plaintiff is proposing a class-action suit against the airline for breach of contract

Southwest Airlines employees assist passengers at Dallas Love Field Airport in locating luggage after it canceled thousands of flights. (Shelby Tauber/Reuters)
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One of the hundreds of thousands of passengers affected by Southwest Airlines’s cancellation of more than 15,000 flights last week amid internal systems failures has filed a lawsuit accusing the carrier of breach of contract.

The suit filed Friday in a New Orleans federal court proposes to be a class-action and alleges Southwest did not provide passengers with other flights or quick refunds as the carrier was forced to ground more than half its service over part of last week to reset operations.

Dallas-based Southwest, one of the nation’s largest domestic carriers, faced an unprecedented internal breakdown of its systemwide scheduling services while trying to recover from a winter storm. The debacle stranded planes, crews and passengers at airports across the country.

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The lawsuit, filed by Eric F. Capdeville, of Marrero, La., says Capdeville had bought two tickets for flights on Dec. 27 for himself and his daughter to fly from New Orleans to Portland, Ore., with a connection in Phoenix. Before departing, the lawsuit said, Capdeville learned his flight was among thousands canceled. He had no way to get to Portland, where his booked stay was nonrefundable, the lawsuit says.

Instead of another flight or a refund that might help him find other travel, Southwest offered him “a credit for use on a future flight,” the lawsuit stated. According to the U.S. Transportation Department, customers who chose not to travel are entitled to a refund if their flight was canceled for any reason or if it had a “significant” delay or schedule change.

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Southwest’s tickets, however, include a contract of carriage in which the lawsuit says the company is required to either give passengers the choice of taking the next available flight at no additional charge or provide them with a refund.

“His flight was canceled and there were no alternative Southwest flights to accommodate him from the Trip’s origin to his destination,” the lawsuit said.

The airline did not comment on the lawsuit Tuesday, but in a statement said “several high priority efforts” were underway “to do right by our Customers” including the processing of refunds for canceled flights and reimbursing passengers for expenses incurred. The company said it launched a website to help customers with refunds and compensation.

The lawsuit proposes that anyone similarly affected after Dec. 24 join the case in a class action. A message left with Matthew Moreland, Jim Hall and Associates in Metairie, La., the firm representing Capdeville, was not returned.

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While most airlines recovered within days from the winter storm, Southwest officials said they had little choice but to cancel most flights midweek because its systems couldn’t handle the magnitude of resorting and rescheduling flights after such widespread delays and cancellations.

Representatives of Southwest’s employee unions blamed the company’s reliance on archaic technology and its failures to upgrade its internal systems in recent years as the driving cause of problems. Chief executive Bob Jordan acknowledged last week that the storm exposed vulnerabilities that he vowed to fix.

Razzan Nakhlawi contributed to this report.