Skip to main content

Southwest Airlines Community

Involuntary denied boarding

Explorer C


Below is a portion of the letter I originally wrote to Southwest airlines after our horrendous experience with them.  BUYER BEWARE!!!


I am writing this letter to advise of the horrible experience my family and I had with Southwest Airlines ticketing and gate agents. I am thoroughly exhausted while describing this endeavor due to the TWO extra travel days it took for myself, my husband, my two children and my elderly in-laws to arrive home to Denver, Colorado.
My husband and I saved for years to go to Cancun Mexico from June 20th to June 27th, 2021. We worked with a travel agent-Creative Travel Adventures, LLC to book a vacation through Southwest Vacations. Our departure from Denver to Cancun was great, and our stay at Now Jade Riviera was excellent.
We were scheduled to leave on flight #1018 at 1:00 pm from Cancun to Denver on June 27,2021.
I checked in our entire party of 6 online via Southwest airlines 24 our prior, and we were given our boarding priority the day prior to departure.

Our troubles didn't begin until we arrived at the Cancun International Airport to depart on
Sunday June, 27th. We arrived at the airport via the Amstar transportation who arranged for our pick up at 10:10 am from the hotel. I was only able to print out the boarding passes and baggage tags via the kiosk for my family of four, so we needed to wait in the full service line for additional assistance for my in-laws. We waited in line for over one hour to get to an agent for assistance. Once we arrived at the podium and provided our boarding passes, we were advised that we weren't able to get onto our flight, and they wouldn't provide my in-laws with boarding passes. We were notified approximately 1 hour prior to departure of the flight. We were not given a real description or relevant reason as to why they weren't going to help us. The agent stated he couldn't explain the situation well in English since he was primarily Spanish speaking. My husband is bi-lingual and fluent in Spanish, and spoke to the gate agent in Spanish, and he still never advised a relevant reason other than stating he received a call that we weren't able to be on the plane. We were next told that there was nothing further they could
do but put us on the next flight tomorrow.

**We were never provided a written explanation the day of this incident. We never received any type of compensation or vouchers for this delay and horrible customer service.



Dear Jaya,

A copy of your correspondence was forwarded to our office by the Department of Transportation Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings. I recognize that it has taken us some time to respond to your concerns due to the high call and email volumes we are experiencing, and I welcome the opportunity to address your concerns. 

We apologize for the frustration that you and your family experienced on June 27. We are so sorry you had to wait in line for an extended period of time and arrived at the ticket counter only to discover you all were unable to board the aircraft. The information we received from our Cancun Station representatives indicate that Flight #1018 was weight restricted due to operational concerns, which lowered the seating capacity. Allow me to explain that sometimes flights are weight restricted, meaning we must limit the number of Passengers onboard the aircraft. Each aircraft and airport has prescribed landing requirements, and if current operational conditions (wind speed/direction, runway conditions, weather, etc.) require a lighter aircraft, we will offload Passengers and cargo so that we can operate the aircraft within the prescribed variables. In these situations, our Customer Service Agents or representatives should ask for volunteers willing to give up their seat. If not enough Passengers volunteer, we will deny boarding to the last Passenger(s) who checked in and issue involuntary denied boarding compensation.

We are pleased to see you were reaccommodated on the next available flight, provided a hotel room for the night, and transportation to the hotel. Still, I regret you were frustrated with the routing for your new flights. We always prefer to accommodate our Customers who are displaced in these situations on the most expeditious route to their destination; however, sometimes those Customers have to make the tough choice between flying a more circuitous route or waiting potentially much longer to fly directly to their destination. I am glad that our Customer Service Representative was able to find you all alternate flights, but I know it was frustrating to not all travel together or as originally scheduled.

In this situation, we will be happy to consider reimbursement of the meal costs you incurred in Mexico after your flight was changed. You can send copies of the receipts to our Customer Relations Department by mail (Southwest Airlines-1CR; P.O. Box 36647; Dallas, TX, 75235) or by email via our Contact Us page. We ask that you reference the case number listed in this email’s subject line and allow up to 30 days for your documentation to be reviewed. 

We are sorry to learn that your experience was made considerably worse by your interactions with our Cancun Station representatives. All Southwest Airlines Employees and contracted representatives are expected to be friendly, helpful, and, above all else, courteous to all of our Customers who are kind enough to grant us their business. Of course, we realize that an Employee's attitude when handling a situation may be remembered long after the actual incident is over. Please know that we firmly believe in the value of excellent Customer Service and positive communication under all circumstances. We know that these qualities are especially important when our Customers are inconvenienced because that is when our Customers need us the most. You have our sincere apologies for having let you down.

We are glad to learn that your parents were able to successfully arrive home the following day, but we regret that your frustrations continued on June 28. As communicated on when traveling to and from Mexico, additional information and documentation is required. It is important to explain that authority over airport security functions and personnel does not fall under airlines and that we are not in any way able to influence the screening process. Of course, we recognize that all aspects of the “airport experience” automatically reflects on airlines, so we have equal reason to be disappointed by your experience. 

On that note, allow me to explain that the Department of Homeland Security currently has enhanced security procedures that may subject some Customers traveling from an international location to the United States to secondary security screening prior to boarding as well as pre-boarding “interviews.” Typically, in domestic airports, this secondary screening is handled by the TSA at the security checkpoint; however, in international airports, this process takes place at the gate prior to boarding. The representatives at our international stations are trained to follow prescribed protocols in these situations, and I’m sorry if we could have done more to explain, or otherwise put you at ease, before, during, or after, the screening process. 

I can imagine it was only “salt in the wound”, if you will, to arrive in Houston and learn that you were unable to travel as scheduled to Denver. I can only surmise that as a result of the delay you experienced in Houston, and knowing you would miss your connecting flight, our team proactively rebooked you for the next available flight. As much as we want every single Customer to experience a smooth and timely flight experience, we must also weigh the overall effect of delaying one flight for another. These are tough decisions, which we don’t take lightly, and we apologize for your inconvenience, and as a result, had to stay overnight in Houston. As you can imagine, we don’t incorporate the cost of interim expenses such as food, lodging, or alternate transportation into our fares. So we do not provide hotel accommodations in most cases; however, our Employees can offer Customers a voucher for a distressed Passenger rate at a local hotel (if available). It’s worth mentioning that there are often limited rooms available, so hotel vouchers as well as food vouchers would be proffered to Passengers on a “first-come, first-served” basis. While I am glad to learn that you and your family were reaccommodated the following day, we apologize if our Houston Station Employees could have been more kind and helpful. 

All this to say, we are aware that we have not scored a “high grade” with you and your family regarding your experience, especially since your children missed two days of their summer STEM academy in addition to your family missing work and incurring added expenses. 

While we must respond unfavorably to your request for additional compensation (outside of consideration of reimbursement for meal costs you incurred during your time in Mexico on June 27), a refund of your reservation, and your request for A-List Status, know that your concerns have been documented to be made available to our Senior Leaders. 

As a loyal Rapid Rewards member, thank you for taking the time to write to us. We would like to request that you not allow this one unpleasant experience to permanently frame your image of our airline. Our goal is still to provide our Customers with the finest service possible, and we shall make every effort to continue to improve. We are confident that your future flights with Southwest will be much more enjoyable and more representative of the fine service that we continually strive to maintain.

Travis Meeks
Southwest Airlines


Re: Involuntary denied boarding

Explorer C

Here is the compensation that should be issued per the US Department of Transpiration directly from their website.


Involuntarily Giving Up Your Seat (Bumping)

Sometimes, when an airline asks for volunteers to give up their seats and fly on a different flight, there are not enough volunteers.  When this occurs, the airline will select passengers to give up their seats.  This is called “involuntary denied boarding” or “bumping.”

How does an airline determine who has to give up their seat?

  • While it is legal for airlines to involuntarily bump passengers from an oversold flight when there are not enough volunteers, it is the airline’s responsibility to determine its own fair boarding priorities.
  • If there are not enough passengers who are willing to give up their seats voluntarily, an airline may deny you a seat on an aircraft based on criteria that it establishes, such as the passenger’s check-in time, the fare paid by the passenger, or the passenger’s frequent flyer status.  However, the criteria cannot subject a passenger to any unjust or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage.  For example, an airline could not lawfully use a passenger’s race or ethnicity as a criterion. 

    Do airlines have to tell me my rights when I’m involuntarily bumped?

    • Yes.  DOT requires airlines to give all passengers who are bumped involuntarily a written statement describing their rights and explaining how the carrier decides who gets bumped.

      Can airlines involuntarily bump me after I have boarded the flight?

      • Generally, no.  If you have met the following conditions, airlines are not allowed to deny you permission to board, or remove you from the flight if you have already boarded the flight:
        • You have checked-in for your flight before the check-in deadline set by the airlines; and
        • A gate agent has accepted your paper boarding pass or electronically scanned your boarding pass and let you know that you may proceed to board.
        • However, airlines may deny boarding or remove you from a flight even after accepting your boarding pass and informing you that you may proceed to board if the denial or removal is due to a safety, security, or health risk, or due to a behavior that is considered obscene, disruptive, or otherwise unlawful.

          Are airlines required to pay me money when I’m involuntarily bumped?

          • It depends.  An airline is required to compensate you after involuntarily bumping you from an oversold flight in certain situations.  However, there are many situations where you are not entitled to compensation.

            Bumped passengers are NOT eligible for compensation in the following situations:

            • Aircraft Change - A smaller plane is substituted for the larger one the airline originally planned on using due to operational or safety reasons.
            • Weight and Balance - Weight or balance restrictions that apply to planes with 60 or fewer seats for operational or safety reasons.
            • Downgrading - A passenger is downgraded from a higher class of seating to a lower class.  In this case, the passenger is entitled to a refund for the difference in price.
            • Charter Flights -  A flight contracted for a specific trip that is not part of an airline’s regular schedule.
            • Small Aircraft - Scheduled flights on planes holding fewer than 30 passengers.
            • Flights Departing a Foreign Location - International flights to the United States.  However, some airlines on these routes may provide compensation voluntarily. Also, the European Commission has a rule on bumping passengers from flights that apply to passengers departing from a European Union member state; ask the airline for details, or visit this page. 

              Situations when bumped passengers ARE eligible for compensation:

              • If you are not bumped from a flight for one of the reasons above, you qualify for involuntary denied boarding compensation if an airline requires you to give up your seat on an oversold flight and:
                • You have a confirmed reservation,
                • You checked-in to your flight on time,
                • You arrived at the departure gate on time, and
                • The airline cannot get you to your destination within one hour of your flight’s original arrival time.

                  If I am entitled to compensation, how is the amount of compensation calculated?

                  • Passengers who are denied boarding involuntarily due to oversales are entitled to compensation that is based on the price of their ticket, the length of time that they are delayed in getting to their destination because of being denied boarding, and whether their flight is a domestic flight or an international flight leaving from the United States.  This is called “denied boarding compensation” or “DBC” for short.
                  • Most bumped passengers who experience short delays on flights will receive compensation equal to double the one-way price of the flight they were bumped from, but airlines may limit this amount to up to $775.  Passengers experiencing longer delays on flights will receive payments of four times the one-way value of the flight they were bumped from, but airlines may limit this amount to up to $1,550.  Please see the tables below.

                    Domestic - Denied Boarding Compensation (DBC)


Re: Involuntary denied boarding

Aviator A

Wow, what a mess. Sorry you had to experience it. You seem to be asking for accommodation.


The southwest employee, in response to your letter, said "If not enough Passengers volunteer, we will deny boarding to the last Passenger(s) who checked in and issue involuntary denied boarding compensation."


Did this not happen?


There are things in SW's response about what happened in Houston that are not included in your OP. It's a little difficult to unpack exactly what happened.

Re: Involuntary denied boarding

Aviator A

I will admit that I read very little of the original message due to its length, but doesn't this part of DOT policy apply?


Bumped passengers are NOT eligible for compensation in the following situations:


Flights Departing a Foreign Location - International flights to the United States. However, some airlines on these routes may provide compensation voluntarily. Also, the European Commission has a rule on bumping passengers from flights that apply to passengers departing from a European Union member state; ask the airline for details,


Apologies if I've missed the point, a summary of the complaint would be appreciated. 




Re: Involuntary denied boarding

Aviator C

First rule is to NEVER, and I repeat NEVER use Southwest Vacations as a travel vendor.  I did once and ended up with getting a substantial portion of the cost refunded and some LUV Vouchers to boot.


Book directly with Southwest on flights and arrange your own hotel stays.  


I would consider reading the terms of use for Southwest Vacations and follow their guidelines for dispute resolution.