Airlines generally stack the deck against their customers. Most rules are written such that should anything go wrong, the airline will likely benefit more than the passengers do. In some cases this is reasonable – an airline certainly isn’t responsible for delays caused when weather happens – but in many cases it is not. Historically airlines have accepted that maintenance of their aircraft is something that they are responsible for and that a mechanical failure of a plane is something that they should have avoided in the first place, leaving them on the hook to care for passengers during any associated delay or cancelation.
Force Majeure Event means any event outside of Carrier’s control, including, without limitation, acts of God, meteorological events, such as storms, rain, wind, fire, fog, flooding, earthquakes, haze, volcanic eruption or any other event, including, without limitation, government action, disturbances or potentially volatile international conditions, civil commotions, riots, embargoes, wars, or hostilities, whether actual, threatened, or reported, strikes, work stoppage, slowdown, lockout or any other labor related dispute involving or affecting Carrier’s service, mechanical difficulties, Air Traffic Control, the inability to obtain fuel, labor or landing facilities for the flight in question or any fact not reasonably foreseen, anticipated or predicted by Carrier.
Tucked away at the bottom there is the phrase “mechanical difficulties.” Having those two words in this section of the CoC essentially means that Southwest has significantly fewer obligations to their customers now should there be an aircraft breakdown. Southwest is the only major US-based carrier to include that phrase in the force majeure section of their CoC. Maybe this only applies if the whole fleet is affected – think DOT maintenance directive or something similar – but that certainly is not clear from the way the Contract is written. Moreover, there are a number of seemingly conflicting sections in the CoC that Southwest may or may not hold responsibility in the same instance. These gray areas are dangerous territory for customers.
Combined with the move to limit the use of travel credits for canceled reservations, the new Southwest CoC takes a significant step backwards in customer flexibility and care. The airline has made a name for itself in many ways because of the reputation it carries for customer care. These changes portend a very unfortunate change in such customer-focused service.
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