by KRISTINA WATROBSKI | The National Desk
WASHINGTON (TND) — Amid the ongoing Southwest Airlines crisis leaving thousands of passengers stranded nationwide, a watchdog group reports the airline has received more than $7 billion in federal subsidies since 2020 to assist with operations.
More than 5,000 Southwest Airlines flights across the United States have been cancelled since Monday. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is set to investigate both the cancellations and the reported "lack of prompt customer service."
After facing backlash, the airline said this week's "extreme winter weather" led to forced changes to its flight schedule "at a volume and magnitude" it could not adequately handle.
A union leader for Southwest flight attendants indicated this is the latest in a trend of the airline failing to "modernize." However, according to nonprofit transparency group OpenTheBooks, Southwest should have no issue keeping its operations up to date.
OpenTheBooks claims that, in September 2020, Southwest received $3.3 billion as part of COVID-19 relief packages meant to boost the airline industry during the pandemic. That turned into another $3.8 billion the following April.
Some of the aid serves as a loan, but Southwest is only required to return 30% of the first $3.3 billion over a ten-year period.
"Southwest received so much federal aid, they turned a profit of $116 million in 2021," OpenTheBooks CEO and Founder Adam Andrzejewski said. "They were the first airline to return to profitability after the pandemic."
The sentiments mirror what was expressed by Southwest last April.
"Our liquidity is strong, and we remain the only U.S. airline with an investment-grade credit rating by all three rating agencies," Southwest Airlines Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer Gary C. Kelly said at the time.
OpenTheBooks also reports the top ten U.S. airlines received more than $37 billion combined to assist with payroll as a result of the pandemic.
Southwest has maintained that it was "fully staffed and prepared" heading into the holiday weekend.
The National Desk (TND) has reached out to Southwest for comment. This story will be updated if a response is received.