CNN

Southwest continues canceling flights as New Year holiday approaches

Dec 27, 2022, 5:35 AM
Operating system issues and a lack of cooperation with other airlines are largely to blame for Sout...
Baggage waits to be claimed after canceled flights at the Southwest Airlines terminal at Los Angeles International Airport on Monday, Dec. 26, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Eugene Garcia)
(AP Photo/Eugene Garcia)

 (CNN) — Air travelers in the US hoping for clear skies on Tuesday following a disastrous week of weather-related flight cancellations and delays will have to extend their patience a few more days — particularly if they’re flying with Southwest Airlines.

More than 2,845 flights within, into or out of the US have already been canceled for Tuesday as of 6:15 a.m. ET, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.

Of those canceled flights, 2,509 are operated by Southwest.

Airports most affected by the Tuesday cancellations are Denver International, followed by Chicago Midway International, Baltimore/Washington International, Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas, Dallas Love Field and Nashville International.

Tuesday’s cancellations follow a full day of post-Christmas travel chaos, with 3,989 flights canceled on Monday — 2,909 of those being Southwest flights.

Southwest warns that such cancellations and delays are expected to continue for several more days, with representatives saying the Dallas-based airline is planning to dial back its flight schedule in order to get operations on track.

Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan told the Wall Street Journal the company plans to operate just over a third of its schedule in upcoming days to give itself the ability for crews to get into the right positions.

According to WSJ.com, Jordan added that reduced schedule could be extended.

“We had a tough day today. In all likelihood we’ll have another tough day tomorrow as we work our way out of this,” Jordan said in an interview Monday evening with WSJ.com.

“This is the largest scale event that I’ve ever seen.”

What can stranded passengers do?

CNN’s Carlos Suarez spoke with frustrated passengers in line at the Southwest ticket counter at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Monday afternoon.

He reported that about 150 customers were waiting in a long line at one point to rebook, with the line snaking around the back of the ticket counter.

Calls made Monday afternoon by CNN to Southwest’s customer service did not go through, so customers couldn’t even get in the queue to speak to a representative. Southwest told CNN it is “fully staffed to answer calls.”

The airline also says, “those whose flights have been canceled may request a full refund or receive a flight credit, which does not expire.”

If you’ve been left in the lurch and your efforts to reach a customer service agent are going nowhere, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights suggests trying an international number.

“The main hotline for US airlines will be clogged with other passengers getting rebooked. To get through to an agent quickly, call any one of the airline’s dozens of international offices,” Scott Keyes said.

“Agents can handle your reservation just like US-based ones can, but there’s virtually no wait to get through.”

Click here to get international numbers that Southwest has previously posted.

Southwest spokesperson: “Take care of yourself…keep your receipts”

A spokesperson for Southwest Airlines (SWA) said the recent winter storm is to blame for the cascade of thousands of flight cancellations Monday and advanced cancellations Tuesday.

“As the storm continued to sweep across the country it continued to impact many of our larger stations and so the cancellations just compiled one after another to 100 to 150 to 1,000,” Jay McVay said in a press conference at Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport on Monday night.

“With those cancellations and as a result, we end up with flight crews and airplanes that are out of place and not in the cities that they need to be in to continue to run our operations.”

McVay said that the company’s first priority right now is safety. “We want to make sure that we operate these flights safely and that we have the flight crews that have legal and sufficient time to operate these flights,” he stated.

“We will do everything that we need to do to right the challenges that we’ve had right now,” he said, including “hotels, ride assistance, vans … rental cars to try and make sure these folks get home as quickly as possible.”

He promised that all customers, even those who had already left the airport or made alternate arrangements on their own, would also be taken care of.

“If you’ve already left, take care of yourself, do what you need to do for your family, keep your receipts,” McVay relayed. “We will make sure they are taken care of, that is not a question.”

An announcement made in the terminal prior to the news conference apologized to customers, and said the next available SWA seats are on Saturday, December 31st and later. The agent said Southwest would be providing buses to area hotels and assured that “we will have sufficient rooms for all customers who are affected by this disruption.”

US government ‘concerned’ by cancellations

The United State Department of Transportation (USDOT) issued a statement on Monday’s massive flight cancellations by Southwest Airlines, saying the agency is “concerned”.

“USDOT is concerned by Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays and reports of lack of prompt customer service. The Department will examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan,” the agency tweeted.

Meanwhile, in a call with CNN on Monday, the president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, Captain Casey Murray, said the problems Southwest is experiencing have been brewing for a long time.

“We’ve been having these issues for the past 20 months,” he said. “We’ve seen these sorts of meltdowns occur on a much more regular basis and it really just has to do with outdated processes and outdated IT.”

When asked about the airline’s processes, he said they haven’t changed since the 1990s. “It’s phones, it’s computers, it’s processing power, it’s the programs used to connect us to airplanes — that’s where the problem lies, and it’s systemic throughout the whole airline.”

“This ultimately is a leadership problem,” Murray stated. “Until we have some true leadership that is going to make some changes and really bring this airline into the 21st century we’re going to continue to see this, and our customers and our employees are going to continue to suffer.”

In other developments

— In hard-hit western New York, Buffalo International Airport said in its most recent tweet that it does not plan to resume passenger flights before 11 a.m. ET Wednesday, pushing back the expected reopening by another 24 hours later than previously anticipated.

— Greyhound, the largest provider of intercity bus service, issued a service alert on Monday afternoon stating many of its scheduled services in the upper northeast will be canceled or disrupted until further notice due to winter weather. Affected cities include Buffalo, Cleveland and Syracuse.

A rough holiday week

A winter storm that swept across the US was ill-timed for travelers who had started pushing Christmas week flying numbers back toward pre-pandemic levels.

On Christmas Day, 3,178 flights were canceled and 6,870 were delayed, according to FlightAware.

On Christmas Eve, there were a total of 3,487 flights canceled, according to FlightAware.

Friday was the worst day of this streak with 5,934 cancellations, while Thursday saw almost 2,700 cancellations.

Related reading: Sea-tac airport opens one runway after closing because of ice

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Southwest continues canceling flights as New Year holiday approaches