Southwest Airlines

Passenger Advocates Keep Close Watch on Southwest Airline Troubles

When travel plans don't go your way, remember that you do have rights.

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The meltdown with Southwest Airlines has been unlike anything customers have seen. Many of them are now saying they their trust has been broken. It also has them wondering what their protections are as passengers. Now experts are weighing in with need-to-know information.

For years Kelly Terrill has been a loyal Southwest Airlines flyer. Whether it'll stay that way depends on what happens in the days and weeks to come.

“I really hope they can figure out what the problems are and get back on track because they're my go-to here to fly and I would hate to have to go elsewhere," said Terrill.

Southwest Airlines canceled more than 2,500 flights Wednesday as the Dallas-based airline tries to get back on track after winter weather. NBC 5's Ben Russell found both grateful and frustrated travelers at Love Field.

While customers work to figure out the next move, behind the scenes, experts are watching closely for how those customers are handled.

Andrew Applebaum is an attorney with, a nonprofit organization advocating for the rights and interests of airline passengers.

“We've been getting a lot of calls from people who are stranded on Southwest,” he said. “This really is a Southwest problem. They canceled over 70% of their flights on Monday.”

Passenger rights are enforced by the U.S. Department of Transportation. In the case of the Southwest meltdown, Applebaum says there’s the first thing customers should know.

“Passengers are entitled to a refund when a flight is canceled for any reason. So, it can be for the weather. But unlike the EU for international travel, passengers in the United States are not entitled to delay compensation.

Furthermore, he says protections don't guarantee vouchers for hotels, meals, or transportation.

For passengers who arrive at the airport only to find out then and there that they're stuck, they should know airlines have a duty to notify passengers as soon as possible that a flight is canceled or delayed.

Airlines also have a responsibility to maintain a responsive customer service network.

“We've seen people who have had to wait hours and hours to reach customer service and that's a clear violation of their duties,” said Applebaum.

Southwest is now under the microscope of The Department of Transportation - which called the airline's rate of cancellations and delays “unacceptable.”

Customers like Lawrence Carter said the damage is done.

“It makes me second guess Southwest or ever checking a bag again,” said Carter.

Applebaum says even amid frustration, passengers should do their best to keep a detailed record. When the dust finally settles, he said it could come in handy. Be prepared to file complaints with the airline and the Department of Transportation.

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