After "Quite a Bit of Confusion," Southwest Explains, Rewrites New Force Majeure Policy

I mentioned this in passing Sunday: The Arizona Daily Star discovered, or so it thought, that Southwest Airlines's attorneys snuck into its contract of carriage a new definition of "act of God" should you find yourself delayed: "mechanical difficulties." To which the Love Field-based airline responded that those two words were added to the fine print to "limit our exposure to liability." Nevertheless, industry analysts were not amused, fearing other airlines would follow suit. (Incidentally, Smarter Travel actually had the story first a few days earlier.)

But either way, that's not really what Southwest was saying, as suggested here Sunday: Yes, the language inserted into the contract of carriage was brand-new, but "mechanical difficulties" actually joined "act of God" as part the carrier's newly defined "Force Majeure Event" clause. Which is to say: This wasn't a "Blame The Big Guy" out on Southwest's part.

Still, Southwest realizes it kinda goofed. I just went over to the carrier's blog for something entirely unrelated and found this freshly minted item: "Southwest Airlines Addresses Misinterpretation Regarding Contract of Carriage."

Because, see, what the airline was actually referring to, writes manager of communications Brian Lusk, were "events such as airport mechanical difficulties (e.g., the airport de-icing system breaks) or Air Traffic Control issues (e.g., airport or regional tower goes down)" that are beyond the carrier's control. "We are not referring to our own aircraft maintenance difficulties, which would clearly be under our control," he writes.

Till now, Lusk writes, Southwest never actually defined what a Force Majeure Event was. And when it finally did, well, it didn't do so too terribly well: "We realize our newest CoC addition could use clarification," he writes, "so we made a few tweaks to help it read more clearly." The fine print's been rewritten thusly, for those wondering when Southwest won't take responsibility for a delay:

Force Majeure Event: Whenever advisable due to Force Majeure Events outside of Carrier's control, including, without limitation acts of God, meteorological events, such as storms, rain, wind, fire, fog, flooding, earthquakes, haze, or volcanic eruption. It also includes, without limitation, government action, disturbances or potentially volatile international conditions, civil commotions, riots, embargoes, wars, or hostilities, whether actual, threatened, or reported, strikes, work stoppage, slowdown, lockout or any other labor related dispute involving or affecting Carrier's service, mechanical difficulties by entities other than Carrier, Air Traffic Control, the inability to obtain fuel, airport gates or landing facilities for the flight in question or any fact not reasonably foreseen, anticipated or predicted by Carrier.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky