Thousands of flights were canceled on Monday and Tuesday, with Southwest accounting for nearly 3/4 of all suspended flights.
DALLAS — More than 60% of all Southwest flights Wednesday were scrubbed, accounting for thousands of flights as the airline tries to recover from a disastrous period over Christmas weekend when a massive winter storm swept through much of the United States
More than half of Southwest’s scheduled Thursday flights were canceled as of Wednesday morning. Friday hovered around 7% cancellations.
Flight delays after Christmas came under increased scrutiny as travelers heading home after the holiday were canceled en masse. Thousands of flights were canceled on Monday and Tuesday, with Southwest accounting for nearly 3/4 of all suspended flights.
The federal government has said it is investigating why the company has lagged so far behind other airlines.
A day after most U.S. airlines recovered from the storm, Southwest canceled about 2,600 more East Coast flights through late afternoon. Those flights accounted for more than 80% of the 3,000 trips canceled across the country on Tuesday, according to tracking service FlightAware.
And the chaos seemed sure to continue. The airline also canceled 2,500 flights for Wednesday and nearly 1,400 for Thursday as it tried to restore order to its garbled schedule.
At airports with main operations in the South West, customers stood in long lines hoping to do so find a seat on another flight. They described waiting hours on hold for help only to be interrupted. Some tried to rent cars to get to their destination earlier. Others found sleeping places on the floor. Luggage piled up in huge heaps.
Conrad Stoll, a 66-year-old retired construction worker from Missouri, was planning to fly from Kansas City to Los Angeles for his father’s 90th birthday party until his southwestbound flight was canceled early Tuesday. He said he will not see his 88-year-old mother either.
“I was there in 2019 and she looked at me and said, ‘I’m not going to see you again.'” Stoll said. “My sister took care of her, and she’s just like, ‘You’re losing it really fast.'”
Stoll hopes to see his parents again in the spring when it gets warmer.
In a video Southwest released late Tuesday, CEO Robert Jordan said Southwest will have a reduced schedule for a few days but hoped to “be back on track before next week.”
Jordan blamed the winter storm for messing up the airline’s “highly complex” network. He said Southwest’s tools for recovering from disruptions “work 99% of the time, but we clearly need to double down on system upgrades” to avoid a repeat this week.
“We still have some work to do to get this right,” said Jordan, a 34-year Southwest veteran who became CEO in February. “Right now, I want you to know that we’re committed to that.”
The problems began over the weekend and intensified on Monday when Southwest canceled more than 70% of its flights.
That was after the worst of the storm had passed. The airline said many pilots and flight attendants are unable to complete their flights. Union leaders representing Southwest pilots and flight attendants blamed outdated crew scheduling software and criticized management.
Southwest Airlines Pilots Association president Casey Murray said the airline failed to fix issues that led to a similar meltdown in October 2021.
“There’s a lot of frustration because it’s so avoidable,” Murray said. “The airline cannot connect crews to aircraft. The airline didn’t even know where the pilots were.”
Murray said managers at some airports this week asked pilots to report to a central location, where they wrote down the names of pilots present and forwarded the lists to headquarters.
Lyn Montgomery, president of the Transport Workers Union, which represents Southwest flight attendants, said she and other union leaders have repeatedly told management the airline’s scheduling technology is not good enough.
“That was something we saw coming,” she said. “This is a very catastrophic event.”
The airline is now attracting unwanted attention from Washington.
Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has criticized airlines for previous disruptions, said his agency will investigate the causes of Southwest’s widespread cancellations and whether the airline is meeting its legal obligations to stranded customers.
“While we all understand that you cannot control the weather, this has clearly crossed the line from an uncontrollable weather situation to something that is the direct responsibility of the airline,” Buttigieg told NBC Nightly News. He said Southwest should at least pay cash refunds for canceled flights and cover stranded passengers’ hotel and meal expenses.
In Congress, the Senate Commerce Committee also promised an investigation. Two Senate Democrats have called on Southwest to give stranded travelers “substantial” compensation and said the airline has the money because it plans to pay out $428 million in dividends next month.
Bryce Burger and his family were scheduled to be on a cruise to Mexico from San Diego on December 24, but their flight from Denver was canceled without warning. The flight was rebooked through Burbank, California, but that flight was canceled while they were at the gate.
“It’s awful,” Burger said by phone Tuesday from Salt Lake City, where the family was planning to go after giving up the cruise.
The family’s luggage is still at the Denver airport, and Burger doesn’t know if he can get a cruise refund because the flight to California was booked separately.
The size and severity of the storm wreaked havoc on many airlines, though most of Tuesday’s canceled flights occurred at airports where Southwest is a major carrier, including Denver, Chicago Midway, Las Vegas, Baltimore and Dallas.
Spirit Airlines and Alaska Airlines have both canceled about 10% of their flights, with much lower cancellation percentages at American, Delta, United, and JetBlue.
Kristie Smiley was planning to return to Los Angeles until Southwest canceled her Tuesday flight, so she waited at the Kansas City airport for her mom to pick her up. Southwest cannot put her on another plane until Sunday, New Year’s Day.
Smiley said the airline blamed the weather after the storm and failed to tell passengers why the planes were unable to take off.
“They pretended (Tuesday’s flight) was leaving until they started saying, ‘Oh, five more minutes. Oh, 10 more minutes.’ I’m not sure what’s going on with them. It seems a bit off,” she said.
Danielle Zanin vowed never to fly Southwest again after it took four days, canceled multiple flights and slept at the airport before she, her husband and their two young children returned to Illinois from Albuquerque, New Mexico. They made stops at airports in Denver and Phoenix and only reached Chicago after leaving Southwest and paying $1,400 for four one-way tickets on American Airlines.
“I remember saying, ‘Oh my God, we’re getting on a plane!’ I was honestly shocked because I thought we were going to be stuck in airports forever,” she said.
Zanin plans to ask Southwest to refund a portion of her original tickets plus the new ones for American Airlines, plus additional expenses for rental cars, parking, an Uber ride, and food — totaling about $2,000.
“I don’t have good faith that they’re going to do much of anything,” she said.
Associated Press writers Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Missouri, Thalia Beaty in New York, and Sophie Austin in Sacramento, California contributed to this story.
https://www.kvue.com/article/news/nation-world/southwest-grounds-flights-again/507-1a9ca819-2d90-4948-bc9d-86eb8885fe21 Flight cancellations in the South West continue on Wednesday