Southwest Airlines’ Troubles Continue: Thousands More Flights Canceled – CBS News

Southwest Airlines' Troubles Continue: Thousands More Flights Canceled - CBS News

Southwest airlines thousands of flights scrubbed again Wednesday, as the company faced passenger frustration and criticism from federal officials over its handling of its schedule in the wake of the massive storm that devastated vacation travel plans across the U.S.

As of Wednesday night, about 86% of all canceled flights in the US were from the Southwest, which scrubbed more than 2,500 flights Wednesday, according to the tracking service Flight consciously. As of Tuesday, a day after most U.S. airlines had recovered from the storm, Southwest had canceled about 2,600 more flights. According to FlightAware, those flights accounted for more than 80% of the 3,000 trips canceled nationwide on Tuesday.

And the chaos certainly seems to continue. The airline has canceled more than 2,300 flights scheduled for Thursday to restore order to its garbled schedule. That’s another huge percentage of all canceled US flights for the day, as noted by FlightAware, and 58% of Southwest’s Thursday schedule.

Southest has canceled more than 15,000 flights in the past week, according to data from FlightAware.

The company apologized again on Wednesday, but it could take days for the situation to return to normal.

Several major airlines โ€” including American, Delta and United โ€” tell CBS News that they are capping fares in certain cities to help stranded customers get home.

Blaming the massive winter storm last week for throwing crews out of position, Southwest is now running a shortened flight schedule in hopes of getting back on track by the new year.

Yet at airports with major Southwest operations, customers stood in front of long lines hoping to find a seat on another flight. They described waiting on hold for hours for help, only to be cut off. Some tried to rent cars to get to their destination faster. Others found sleeping places on the floor. Luggage piled up in huge heaps.

Conrad Stoll, a 66-year-old retired construction worker in Missouri, was planning to fly from Kansas City to Los Angeles for his father’s 90th birthday party until his Southwest flight was canceled early Tuesday. He said he will not see his 88-year-old mother either.

“I went 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 them, and she just said, ‘They’re losing it really fast.'”

Stoll hopes to get another chance to see his parents in the spring, when the weather is warmer.

The holiday travel chaos continues with flight delays and cancellations


Adontis Barber, a 34-year-old jazz pianist from Kansas City, Missouri, had been camping at the city’s airport since his Southwest flight was canceled Saturday and wondered if he’d ever go to a New Year’s Eve gig in Washington, D.C.

“I give up,” he said. “I’m starting to feel homeless.”

The carrier was also inundated with questions and complaints online. Said a person further Twitter“[S]oh let’s get this right. My bags get lost and then DAMAGED, and when I try to contact you by phone for the past WEEK all I get is two rings and the busy signal? What kind of customer service is that?”

CEO apologizes

In a video Posting late Tuesday, Southwest CEO Robert Jordan said Southwest would be on a reduced schedule for several days, but hoped to be “back on track before next week.”

Jordan blamed the winter storm for snapping at the airline’s “highly complex” network. He said Southwest’s tools to recover from disruptions “work 99% of the time, but it’s clear we need to double down” on upgrading systems to avoid a repeat this week.

Jordan, a 34-year-old Southwest veteran who became CEO in February, said he is “really sorry” for the travel chaos, adding: “We have real work to do to rectify this.”

Another Southwest executive issued a video apology on Wednesday, highlighting new features on the company’s website where affected travelers can rebook flights, request refunds and submit missing baggage information.

Ryan Green, Southwest’s chief commercial officer, pledged to “do everything we can and work day and night to repair our relationship with passengers”.

The problems began over the weekend and snowballed into a snowball effect 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 were unable to operate their flights. Leaders of unions representing Southwest pilots and flight attendants blamed outdated crew scheduling software and criticized the company’s management.

southwest cancellations
Luis Hernandez, 61, left, Ruth Hernandez, waits with their dog Sissi for a ride home after their Southwest Airlines flight to Omaha, Nebraska, was canceled at Los Angeles, California, at Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday, December 27, 2022.

Irfan Khan

Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said the airline has failed to resolve the issues that caused a similar crisis in October 2021.

“There’s a lot of frustration because this is so preventable,” Murray said. “The airline can’t connect crews to planes. The airline didn’t even know where pilots were.”

Murray said managers this week resorted to asking pilots at some airports to report to a central location, where they wrote down the names of pilots present and forwarded the lists to headquarters.

In an internal memo, Southwest’s vice president of group operations on Dec. 21 warned of a “state of emergency” at the airline’s Denver hub due to a large number of employee absences, according to Bloomberg News.

Lyn Montgomery, president of the Transport Workers Union representing Southwest’s flight attendants, said she and other union leaders have repeatedly told management that the airline’s scheduling technology isn’t good enough.

“This is something we saw coming,” she said. “This is a very catastrophic event.”

Buttigieg: Southwest should offer cash refunds

The airline is now attracting unwanted attention from Washington.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has criticized airlines for previous disruptions, said his agency would investigate the causes of Southwest’s widespread cancellations and whether the airline was meeting its legal obligations to stranded customers.

“While we all understand that you can’t control the weather, this has clearly crossed the line from what constitutes an uncontrollable weather situation to something that is the direct responsibility of the airline,” Buttigieg told “NBC Nightly News.” At a minimum, he said Southwest should pay cash refunds for canceled flights and cover the hotel and meal costs of stranded passengers.

In Congress, the Senate Commerce Committee also promised an investigation. Two Senate Democrats called on Southwest to provide “significant” compensation for stranded travelers, saying the airline has the money because it plans to pay $428 million in dividends next month.

Bryce Burger and his family were supposed to be on a cruise to Mexico departing San Diego on Dec. 24, but their flight from Denver was canceled without warning. The flight was rebooked via Burbank, California, but that flight was canceled while they were at the gate.

“It’s terrible,” Burger said by phone Tuesday from Salt Lake City, where the family decided to drive after giving up on the cruise.

The family’s luggage is still at the Denver airport, and Burger doesn’t know if he can get a refund for the cruise because the flight to California was booked separately.

At Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, travelers said they were told they can’t catch another Southwest flight until Saturday, according to CBS News DFW.

The death toll rises after a monstrous winter storm


The size and severity of the storm wreaked havoc on many airlines, though the highest number of flight cancellations on Tuesday occurred at airports where Southwest is a major carrier, including Denver, Chicago Midway, Las Vegas, Baltimore and Dallas.

Spirit Airlines and Alaska Airlines both canceled about 10% of their flights, with much smaller cancellation rates at American, Delta, United and JetBlue.

Consumer advocates urged Congress to pass new rules to protect travelers.

“While the terrible weather is no one’s fault, the way travelers were treated and accommodated — or not — rests squarely on the shoulders of most airlines,” Teresa Murray, consumer watchdog at the public advocacy organization US PIRG, said in a statement.

โ€œAs federal officials examine how much of the chaos was preventable, this catastrophe once again exposes the massive changes needed to better protect airline passengers.

“Oh my god, we’re getting on a plane!”

Kristie Smiley was planning to return home to Los Angeles until Southwest canceled her flight on Tuesday, so she waited at the Kansas City airport for her mom to pick her up. Southwest can’t put her on another plane until New Year’s Day.

Smiley said the airline continued to blame the weather after the storm passed and didn’t tell passengers why planes couldn’t take off.

“They like to pretend [Tuesday’s flight] would go until they started saying, ‘Oh, five more minutes. Oh, 10 more minutes.’ I don’t know what’s going on with them. It seems a bit off,” she said.

Southwest cancellations
Tracy Joline, left, of Tampa, Florida, is working on a new Southwest Airlines flight on Dec. 27, 2022, after her previous flight was canceled at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, New York.

James Carbone/Newsday RM via Getty Images

Danielle Zanin vowed never to fly Southwest again after it took four days, several canceled flights, and sleeping in the airport for her, her husband, and their two young children to return to Illinois from Albuquerque, New Mexico. They stopped at airports in Denver and Phoenix, only reaching 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 stuck in airports forever,” she said.

Zanin plans to ask Southwest for a refund of some of their original tickets plus the new ones on American, and additional expenses for rental cars, parking, an Uber ride, and food — totaling about $2,000.

“I don’t have the good faith that they’ll do much of anything,” she said.

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