Southwest Airlines cancelled over 16,000 flights in total during the Christmas week, primarily due to a massive winter storm, compounded by issues with the airline’s own scheduling software.
In response to the disruption, the company has promised to reimburse passengers for delays and losses incurred.
“If you had to make alternative travel arrangements like hotels, meals, rental cars, gas for rental car, those will qualify for reimbursements,” said Southwest Chief Commercial Officer, Ryan Green, who added that repayments would take several weeks to process.
However, InsureMyTrip noted that the specifics of Southwest’s reimbursement policy made it likely that some passengers would not be covered – holes which it said travel insurers could fill.
What is a ‘significant delay’?
According to InsureMyTrip, Southwest’s website said that reimbursement would be offered for any ‘cancellation or significant delay’ – but highlighted that there were no details on what constituted ‘significant’, or if there were limits on how much they would reimburse.
By comparison, a travel insurance policy typically spells out such information, with the timeframe for a ‘significant delay’ somewhere between three and 12 hours. InsureMyTrip added that while airlines may only cover a portion of additional expenses, travel insurance can help cover the remainder.
Meghan Walch, InsureMyTrip’s Director of Product, added: “From what I can tell, Southwest will not provide reimbursement for the pre-paid portion of a trip that is missed due to their delays or cancellations.”
InsureMyTrip also highlighted that reimbursements for specific events can be fickle, depending on what dates the airline chooses to cover. Walch added: “It appears Southwest is offering generous reimbursement to affected travellers who faced delays between 24 December and 2 January.
“However, the winter storm impacted travel beginning on 20 December,” she continued. “So, it’s unclear if Southwest would cover expenses for those who may have experienced additional expenses due to the storm delaying their flight prior to 24 December.”