The US Department of Transportation’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) is planning to impose higher penalties on airlines that breach consumer protection rules.

A unit that is responsible for monitoring airlines’ and ticket agents’ compliance, OACP noted that it is issuing notice to explain its investigatory and enforcement policies and practices to enforce the law and protect aviation consumers.

In its statement, the watchdog said that air travel complaints have notably spiked since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis.

Even though OACP has the power to take enforcement action, it issues warning letters to reach a settlement before taking stringent measures.

In a statement, it said: “OACP believes that it is necessary to recalibrate the penalties imposed on airlines and ticket agents for violations of consumer protection, civil rights and economic licensing requirements.

“OACP intends to hold the regulated entities accountable and deter future misconduct by seeking higher penalties that would not be viewed as simply a cost of doing business.”

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The move comes after Southwest Airlines called off nearly 16,000 flights around the Christmas holiday rush due to a winter storm.

Recently, the airline assured about a thorough review of the meltdown.

Although many airlines recovered from the disruption caused by the storm, Southwest Airlines lagged behind its peers.

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg deemed it as a complete meltdown of the airline’s systems and said that the department will hold the airline accountable.

Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan said: “We disrupted holiday travel for millions when some of our systems and processes became stressed by Winter Storm Elliott, bringing disruptions that were far-reaching.

“We are taking immediate steps to address the massive inconvenience, as well as the issues that contributed to it.”