Economic Liberties Applauds DOT’s Response to Southwest Airlines 2022 Holiday Meltdown

December 18, 2023 Press Release

Record Enforcement Action Sends Strong Warning to Other Airlines

Washington, D.C. — In the wake of a record-breaking enforcement action by the U.S. Department of Transportation against Southwest Airlines, the American Economic Liberties Project released the following statement.

“The DOT has sent a forceful message to Southwest after its epic mistreatment of millions of passengers last December,” said William J. McGee, Senior Fellow for Aviation and Travel at the American Economic Liberties Project. “After the worst flight disruption ever by a single carrier, holiday travelers were stranded and countless itineraries were thrown into disarray while Southwest was slow to respond to consumer complaints and requests for refunds, accommodations, and compensation. As the holiday travel season intensifies in the coming days, let’s hope the DOT’s order for more than $600 million in restitution and a $140 million fine (including a $90 million compensation fund) also sends a very strong message to other airlines that the misbehavior of the past will no longer be tolerated.”

Southwest’s operational meltdown from December 21st through 31st one year ago coincided with Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s and culminated in nearly 17,000 flight cancellations that stranded more than 2 million passengers, as Economic Liberties noted last January when it called for more comprehensive regulation of the airline industry.

The need for strong enforcement from the DOT is particularly important because due to federal preemption state courts, state attorneys general, and state legislatures have virtually no authority over the airline industry; AELP has strongly advocated for overturning preemption, but currently the DOT is effectively the only sheriff for the airlines. Earlier this year DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg introduced new rulemakings to strengthen airline passenger protections and Congress is currently considering further oversight under the pending FAA Reauthorization Act. AELP urges swift action on these initiatives, so that air travelers in the United States will finally be afforded the same fair treatment at home that they often receive on foreign soil.

Learn more about Economic Liberties here.


The American Economic Liberties Project works to ensure America’s system of commerce is structured to advance, rather than undermine, economic liberty, fair commerce, and a secure, inclusive democracy. Economic Liberties believes true economic liberty means entrepreneurs and businesses large and small succeed on the merits of their ideas and hard work; commerce empowers consumers, workers, farmers, and engineers instead of subjecting them to discrimination and abuse from financiers and monopolists; foreign trade arrangements support domestic security and democracy; and wealth is broadly distributed to support equitable political power.