The US Department of Transportation is investigating the decline in vacation travel in the Southwest

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CNN

The U.S. Department of Transportation says it is in the early stages of an investigation into the Southwest Airlines crash in December.

The investigation includes whether Southwest schedules more flights than it can handle.

“DOT is in the early stages of a rigorous and comprehensive investigation into the Southwest Airlines vacation that has resulted in millions of arrests,” a department spokesman said.

The largest US domestic carrier, the airline, canceled more than 16,700 flights between December 21 and 29. Southwest estimates that the waiver will cost between $725 million and $825 million. A little more than half of the cost – between $400 million and $425 million – will come from revenue from lost tickets, which will be returned to customers.

Much of the rest goes to compensating customers for buying flights on other airlines and 25,000 bonus points in its frequent flyer program. Various employees at Southwest will also receive additional “appreciation” pay for working during the recession.

“DOT has made it clear to Southwest that it must provide refunds and reimbursements in a timely manner and that it will hold Southwest accountable if it does not. The DOT is also investigating whether Southwest executives engaged in unrealistic flight scheduling, which is considered an unfair and deceptive practice under federal law. DOT uses its investigative and enforcement powers to ensure that consumers are protected, and that process will continue to evolve as the Department learns more,” the spokesperson said.

Southwest said it is cooperating with the investigation.

“Our holiday flight program is carefully designed and offered to our customers with a clear management plan and adequate staff support,” the airline said in a statement. “Our systems and processes have been challenged as we try to recover from the unprecedented storm that left 50 airports with days of flight cancellations. We are focused on learning from this incident, reducing the risk of a repeat incident and providing the exceptional hospitality and service that our customers have come to expect from us.

Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg previously said the department would “use the full range of its investigative and enforcement powers” if the airline did not reimburse travelers for additional costs.

– CNN’s Chris Isidore contributed to this report

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