The customer emails from Southwest Airlines struck an apologetic tone this week.
"You matter to us," one began. "We hope this LUV Voucher will allow our paths to cross again soon so we can have a better experience."
Inside: a travel voucher for $250.
"We know things didn't go as planned when traveling," began another. "We're so sorry for the disappointment this disruption caused and want a chance to make it up to you."
Inside: the promise of a $100 voucher.
Southwest has been quietly doling out vouchers in varying amounts to passengers it stranded last weekend when it canceled as many as 30% of its flights.
The LUV vouchers – Southwest's stock ticker symbol is LUV and it's based at Love Field in Texas – are a goodwill gesture. They are in addition to the refunds or flight credits airlines are required to pay when they cancel flights and passengers reject the airline's rebooking options or none is available. (Southwest told many passengers it would take a couple days to get them on another flight.)
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The airline is not broadcasting the availability of the vouchers or specifying who gets how much and when, with travelers initially only hearing about them if they appealed to Southwest on Twitter.
Late Wednesday, Southwest sent its first batch of emails notifying travelers vouchers are on the way for their troubles. (I received one for a canceled Saturday flight.)
Southwest spokesperson Brandy King said affected passengers should automatically get the LUV voucher but notes the timetable "might be slower than usual due to the number of customers we are processing."
The airline isn't saying much on how it's determining the vouchers' value, but the amounts appear to range from $100 to $250 per passenger based on USA TODAY interviews with affected travelers.
"We review each situation individually to determine the compensation based on level of inconvenience," King said via email. "The level of inconvenience is a mix of length of delay, quality of reaccommodation options and flight cancellations."
Frequent flyer status and persistence also appear to play a role.
Asim Raza received an email about a $250 voucher late Tuesday. His son's Southwest flight from St. Louis to Washington, D.C., on Sunday was canceled and the family had to cash in American Airlines miles to get him back to college in time for a meeting. Raza, who has Southwest's highest frequent flier status, A-List Preferred, reached out to the airline through Twitter right away.
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Similarly, Becky Nelson, a strategic communications consultant in Washington, D.C., was stuck in Austin, Texas, on Sunday when Southwest canceled her flight home. She and a friend, both new mothers, were on a girls' trip that had been scratched four times because of the pandemic.
Southwest couldn't get them home for a couple of days so they cashed in a bundle of United miles for a last-minute flight out of Houston. The going price for those twice tickets? About $2,000 one-way, she said.
They also paid $275 for an Uber ride from Austin to Houston and made it home.
Nelson tried everything to get a refund for their flights and reimbursement for other expenses: She sent an email to customer service and filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation, all with receipts and a detailed accounting of their travel troubles that she calls a case file. (She initially tried to reach Southwest by phone but was on hold for more than an hour.)
She didn't get anywhere until Wednesday when a Southwest representative on Twitter instantly refunded her money for the flights and promised a $200 voucher. Nelson then received a letter from Southwest Wednesday saying you would be receiving a $250 voucher.
"This was not without what I would consider somewhat significant effort and proactive communication on my part," she said.
Nelson said she was pleased with Southwest's relatively speedy social media response but is unhappy she is out of money for the added travel costs.
In denying the expenses, Southwest told her via Twitter message that it understands you "can't put a price tag on a customer's inconvenience."
"I said, right, but you can put a price on what I spent to get home Sunday," Nelson said.
Erika Ouellette is in the same situation. The North Carolina paralegal and her boyfriend paid $500 for a hotel room and rental car after Southwest canceled their flight from Orlando to Raleigh on Saturday. Southwest couldn't find a flight home for them until Tuesday.
"We couldn't stay until Tuesday because we have kids and pets and jobs," she said.
Southwest initially offered a refund and a $150 per person voucher. They increased the vouchers to $250 per person when she pressed her case via Twitter.
"I don't even care about the voucher," Ouellette she said. "I just really want the out-of-pocket money back. It just seems so ridiculous that they would force all these people to pay for an extra night in hotels and car rentals. It's ridiculous."
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There is a disconnect between what passengers think they are owed and what airlines owe them when flight plans go haywire thanks to a patchwork of federal regulations and airline policies.
Some rules, like those covering refunds for cancellations and significant flight delays by the airline, are dictated by the DOT. Others, like hotel and meal vouchers and expense reimbursement, are up to individual airline policies spelled out in dozens of pages of legalese known as a contract of carriage.
King said Southwest decides reimbursement for other expenses on a case-by-case basis.
Hey @SouthwestAir it cost us over $500 to get home because of your horrible staff issues and you're only offering us a $150 voucher to fly with you again? I can assure you we will never fly SWA again unless you make this right 🤬
— Erika (@hereothere) October 12, 2021
Southwest flight canceled? How to get a refund and travel voucher
Check your email for details on your goodwill voucher. Southwest just began sending them out. Don't think it's enough? Press your case via customer service or social media.
Reach out to the airline via Twitter for the fastest service. Have your confirmation number handy and other relevant details but don't post that on Twitter. The airline will direct you to talk to them via direct message, including a link to do so in their initial response. You might get an automated response initially but they will eventually respond.
Be persistent but patient and polite. Don't demand anything or get into a political debate about the causes for the mass cancellations.
Lower your expectations for any payout beyond a flight refund and the travel voucher.
Not satisfied? File a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation. The agency cracked down on airlines during the pandemic after receiving a flood of complaints about trouble getting refunds and other customer service issues.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Southwest Airlines canceled flights: How to get an apology voucher
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