How to Sue Southwest Airlines

Claudia Diaz - Airlines - January 3, 2023

Ready to take Southwest to small claims court?

Start Lawsuit

If you flew or intend to fly with Southwest Airlines and experience significant delays and flight cancellations, you may be entitled to certain refunds and accommodations. Below we discuss the latest news and how to sue Southwest Airlines in small claims court if you have a dispute against them. 

Common Types of Small Claims Lawsuits Against Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines has recently left hundreds of thousands of passengers delayed or stranded due to flight delays and cancellations. 

Here are the most common types of small claims cases filed against Southwest Airlines: 

File a Complaint With the Department of Transportation 

The Department of Transportation (“DOT”) is a federal agency that regulates airlines operating in the U.S. The DOT also investigates and enforces customer service standards in the airline industry. 

The DOT has had to investigate thousands of complaints against Southwest Airlines for things like flight delays or cancellations.

The DOT has outlined the ways Southwest Airlines owe compensation to passengers for flight delays and cancellations experienced between December 24, 2022, and January 2, 2023:

  • Ticket refunds if you choose not to travel after your Southwest Airlines flight was canceled. 

  • Compensation if you had to book another flight with a different airline.

  • Compensation for hotel expenses, ground transportation, and meals while you were stranded due to a situation that was within Southwest Airlines' control. 

If you have experienced issues with Southwest Airlines because they refuse to provide you a refund or compensation for out-of-pocket expenses due to flight problems within their control, you can file a complaint with the DOT

When Can You Sue Southwest Airlines for Flight Cancellations 

To better understand when you can sue an airline for a canceled or delayed flight, the Department of Transportation has released a Flight Delays & Cancellations article with examples that demonstrate when you would be entitled to a refund or some type of compensation from an airline. 

Below we have included some common scenarios described in the DOT’s Flight Delays and Cancelations article: 

  • You may be entitled to a refund (even for non-refundable tickets) if your flight is canceled and you choose to cancel your trip as a result. Also, depending on your airline’s refund policy, other costs resulting from canceled flights, like booking a hotel for the night, might be covered. 

  • You may be entitled to a ticket refund if an airline made a significant delay and you choose not to travel. The DOT, unfortunately, has not defined what constitutes “significant.” Factors such as the length of the delay, the length of the flight, etc. influence this determination. 

  • You may not be entitled to a refund if you are unable to travel due to certain personal issues. For example, if you were running late to the airport and the airline does not let you board the plane because they had already closed the gate you may not be entitled to a refund. 

If you were entitled to a refund or compensation as per DOT guidelines or under Southwest Airlines' canceled flight policies, but Southwest Airlines refuses to honor these guidelines and policies, consider suing Southwest Airlines in small claims court. 

What To Do Before Suing Southwest Airlines in Small Claims Court

Contact Southwest Airlines’ Customer Service

Call Southwest Airlines' customer service phone number at 1-800-435-9792 and have them troubleshoot your problem. Due to the high call volume Southwest Airlines has been experiencing, you may also want to consider using their self-help tools found on the link here

You can also email Southwest Airlines using the link here to submit receipts for reimbursement or to file a complaint against the airline. 

Contact Southwest Airlines on Twitter

Many companies respond to Twitter complaints extremely fast. Here is Southwest Airlines' Twitter handle: @SouthwestAir

Additionally, airlines normally put out statements and travel advisories on their Twitter accounts quickly in the event policies change due to inclement weather or significant flight delays.

Review Southwest Airlines Contract of Carriage 

Before suing Southwest Airlines in small claims court, make sure to review their contract of carriage. An airline’s contract of carriage usually contains the airline’s terms and conditions. For example, Southwest Airlines' contract of carriage discusses flight cancellations, delays, baggage claims, and more. 

Send a Demand Letter

A demand letter is a letter outlining a set of requests you would like Southwest Airlines to fulfill. For example, if you want Southwest Airlines to provide you with a refund for a canceled flight, you can make that request in your demand letter. 

Some state small claims courts may require that you send the party you are suing a demand letter asking for payment before you can sue them in small claims court. For example, in California small claims, you will need to ask Southwest Airlines to pay you for what you intend to sue for before you sue them. Even if this is not a requirement in your state small claims court, it is highly recommended to send a demand letter to Southwest Airlines before suing them. By sending a demand letter, you may be able to settle your claim with Southwest Airlines without going to court and paying court costs. 

Things to consider including in your Southwest Airlines demand letter: 

  • Your name and address at the top of the letter along with Southwest Airlines' name and address as follows:

Southwest Airlines 

2702 Love Field Drive

Dallas, TX, 75235

  • How much money does Southwest Airlines owe you?

  • Why does Southwest Airlines owe you money? What are the facts of your claim? 

  • How did you calculate how much Southwest Airlines owes you?

  • Include a statement saying you intend to sue Southwest Airlines if they do not respond to the demand letter. 

  • Typically, people give airlines 14 days to respond to their demand letter.

People Clerk has a free tool to help you write a demand letter to Southwest Airlines. 

Steps to Suing Southwest Airlines in Small Claims Court 


Here is an overview of how to sue Southwest Airlines in small claims court:

  1. Prepare the lawsuit. 

  2. File the lawsuit. 

  3. Serve Southwest Airlines. 

  4. Prepare for your small claims hearing against Southwest Airlines. 

People Clerk can help you file and serve your small claims lawsuit against Southwest Airlines.

Step 1: Prepare the Lawsuit  


Prepare the lawsuit using the proper forms. These are usually available for download on your local small claims court website. The court will want to know why you are suing Southwest Airlines, how much you are suing Southwest Airlines for, and finally, how you calculated the amount you are suing Southwest Airlines for.

In order to sue Southwest Airlines in a small claims court, you will need to make sure you have the right legal name and the correct mailing address for Southwest Airlines. This is necessary to make sure Southwest Airlines can be notified about the lawsuit later on. We have noticed that in some filed cases, the legal name of Southwest Airlines is Southwest Airlines CO. but be sure to confirm this information with one of the methods described below. 

Where to find this information:

  • Look through any documents (contracts, tickets, receipts) Southwest Airlines has sent you. Our clients sometimes find the legal name of a company under a company’s “Terms of Use.” 

  • Look through Southwest Airlines’ contract of carriage

  • Run a search on the Secretary of State website in your State. 

  • You can use the Certificated Air Carriers List on the DOT’s website to find information on an airline’s legal name and “dba” (doing business as).

What does suing the "correct business entity" mean?

Let's say you flew "AIR Airline," and they damaged your bags. AIR Airline may be a tradename for ABC Airline, Inc. or even a more remote name like “The ABCDEFG Airline, Inc.”

Airlines sometimes use a name other than their real legal name when doing business, or airlines sometimes are referred to by their initials. For example, the "legal" name for TWA is "Trans World Airlines, Inc." This is called a fictitious business name, trade name, assumed name, or doing business as (“dba”). In general, airlines use fictitious business names or tradenames for marketing purposes if their name is too long.

What happens if I don't sue the correct business entity for Southwest Airlines?

For one, you may be suing the wrong airline. If you win the lawsuit, you will receive a "judgment" against the incorrect airline, and this will bring problems down the road. Your goal is to sue Southwest Airlines and be able to actually collect your judgment.

Step 2: File the Lawsuit  

Prepare the lawsuit against Southwest Airlines by using the proper forms, this is usually available for download on your local small claims court website. Here is a guide for California small claims and a guide for New York small claims

The court will want to know why you are suing Southwest Airlines, how much you are suing  Southwest Airlines for, and finally, how you calculated the amount you are suing Southwest Airlines for.

There are several ways you may be able to file the lawsuit: 

  1. In person at your local small claims court, 

  2. By mail 

  3. Electronically (not available in all courts), 

  4. By fax (not available in all courts). 

Step 3: Notify Southwest Airlines About the Small Claims Lawsuit

Once you file your claim with the small claims court clerk, you will then need to “serve” (notify) Southwest Airlines about the small claims lawsuit. 

Each state will have its own rules on how to serve a lawsuit. Make sure to review the rules for serving that apply to you. The rules in each state tend to be very specific about how you can serve Southwest Airlines, who you can serve on behalf of Southwest Airlines, and how much time you have to serve Southwest Airlines. 

Step 4: Prepare for Your Small Claims Hearing 

Preparing for your small claims hearing is one of the most important steps, as the goal is to win the lawsuit against Southwest Airlines. Hence, the more prepared you are, the better you set yourself up for the hearing. 

Here are tips that will help you win your lawsuit against Southwest Airlines: 

  • Review Southwest Airlines' contract of carriage. This is something you should do before considering suing an airline like Southwest in small claims court. Why? You want to make sure you understand what Southwest Airlines' responsibilities are and what your responsibilities were as a passenger.  

  • Research the law. Generally, it is good practice to read up on the law that supports your claim. You may want to consider consulting with a lawyer before you sue Southwest Airlines if you are not sure about the claims you want to bring to court. For example, if you are claiming Southwest Airlines was negligent and because of their negligence you were personally injured during a flight, you may want to discuss the law surrounding negligence and personal injury with a lawyer. 

  • Locate your airline ticket. If you want a ticket refund, you will need the information on your ticket to help you calculate how much to sue Southwest Airlines for in small claims court. 

  • Prepare your statement for the judge. At the hearing, you will be able to present your side of the story, and so will Southwest Airlines. Small claims hearings are usually informal, and the judge will ask you questions about what happened. Be prepared to tell the judge why you are suing Southwest Airlines. You will also want to discuss background facts of your case, like where you flew into or out of. How much Southwest Airlines owes you, and how you calculated how much they owe you. 

You will also want to prepare your evidence for trial. Here are something to include as evidence in your case:

  • Bag stubs and pictures of your baggage if your lawsuit is related to property damage (and ideally pictures of the bags before they were damaged). 

  • Emails, text messages, and other correspondence with Southwest Airlines

  • Your airline ticket or other receipts if you are asking for reimbursement or refund.

  • You will want to bring to the hearing 3 copies of the evidence (one copy for you, one copy for the judge, and one copy for Southwest Airlines). 


People Clerk can help you organize your evidence and sue Southwest Airlines in small claims court.

Author

Claudia Diaz

Legal Educator @ People Clerk. Claudia holds a J.D. degree and is a certified mediator in New York and Florida. She has participated in dozens of small claims mediations in New York City courts.

Subscribe for Small Claims Tips