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Southwest Airlines fined for violating rules on bumping

April 27, 2010 |  2:17 pm

Southwest The U.S. Department of Transportation imposed a $200,000 fine Tuesday against Southwest Airlines for "bumping" ticketed passengers without following federal guidelines.

Under federal law, an airline that denies a seat to a passenger on a flight that has been overbooked must offer the passenger a voucher for another flight or cash compensation, depending on the circumstances.

But an investigation by the federal agency found that on "numerous instances" in 2009 Southwest either failed to pay bumped  passengers the appropriate amount or failed to inform them that they were entitled to cash instead of a voucher.

Southwest Airlines, headquartered in Dallas, is the nation's second-busiest airline in terms of annual passengers.

A Transportation Department spokesman declined to say how many cases were investigated. But the agency representative said the airline agreed to pay the assessment to avoid potential litigation.

In a prepared statement, a Southwest spokeswoman said the violations occurred in only a small percentage of flights and vowed to improve procedures to reduce such problems in the future.

Federal law allows airlines to book more passengers than the number of seats on a flight to account for no-shows. But by law the airlines must offer a voucher for another flight or cash compensation. The rules are spelled out in the Transportation Department's website.

Photo: Southwest Airlines passengers await boarding. Credit: Los Angeles Times