Southwest’s Laraba says booking glitch “neither the experience nor the impression we hope to leave with our customers”

At this hour, the likely culprit in this weekend’s Southwest Airlines fare-sale drama is a faulty database, which triggered an excess of 10,000 double-bookings. You’ve read the horror stories. I asked Teresa Laraba, the airline’s senior vice president for customers, to explain what went wrong and what customers should do if they’re affected.

So what happend?

It was a technological issue and challenge that I’m glad to say our teams worked hard to find and fix within hours of this problem surfacing.

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It’s unfortunate, it’s neither the experience nor the impression we hope to leave with our customers, and we’re reaching out to each of them to let them know how much we value their business and their trust.

We’re also sending a $150 LUV voucher, as we call it, so they can come back soon and have the Southwest experience we work hard to provide everyday.

How many transactions are affected?

We fly more than 100 million customers every year and we book a considerable number of people every day at Southwest.com.

The impact of this issue was felt by thousands, yet represented only a percentage of our overall bookings over the weekend.

Those customers will hear from us that we’ve fixed their travel arrangements, we’re sorry, and we’ll do better next time.

(Update: A Southwest source says the final count will probably be more than 10,000 bookings.)

How could Southwest have prevented this?

That’s part of the learning process for us and by knowing what went wrong, we’ll work to ensure we get to a point where this does not happen again.

We constantly monitor the health and performance of the various systems that come into play every day in running America’s largest domestic carrier.

Are refunds being handled manually?

We have systems that helped us identify which customers were affected and pulled up those original and duplicate bookings, and our employees are investigating reservations to make sure that our customers plans are as they intended.

If passengers dont hear back from Southwest should they dispute the charges?

As of Sunday morning, we’ve processed all of these refunds. Depending on the financial institution, the refunds could take up to several days to show up in their accounts.

We’ll work hard to make sure these customers know we’re sorry and keep them from having to do anything else on this matter.

For people who used debit cards and got hit with overdraft fees as a result of additional charges, we’re reimbursing them.

If they have a pending authorization tying up their credit even though the refund is in the works, we’ll do our best to work with their bank to get the authorization lifted.

Are you planning any changes as a result of this incident?

We’re not drifting from our focus of providing exemplary customer service, even when the unplanned happens.

Sometimes it’s weather, sometimes it’s not our fault, and sometimes it is. What we can control is how we respond and handle the unplanned and I’m proud of the work our folks did to get our affected customers through this as quickly as possible.

The complex systems that help power Southwest.com are constantly being improved and strengthened — and that won’t change.