Southwest Airline’s operational collapse has put the Dallas-based company under scrutiny-not only because of stranded passengers and media reports, but also because of U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
On Tuesday, he spoke directly with Southwest CEO Bob Jordan about the thousands of flights that have been canceled this week, with no immediate indication of when passengers can make rebookings.
“Their system is really completely gone,” Buttigieg told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday.
“I’ve made it clear that our department will hold them accountable for their responsibility to their customers, both to help them through this situation and to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Passengers who had booked tickets with the struggling Southwest Airlines were hoping for much-needed relief from flight cancellations and delays. But those hopes, which so far have been met, have been dashed.
Of the more than 2,640 cancellations already made as of Wednesday, almost all of them are Southwest’s.
All other U.S. airlines together account for only about 155 of those cancellations.
The latest flight cancellation and delay figures
A quick look at the current numbers shows why Buttigieg is so concerned.
As of Tuesday as of 9:30 p.m. Eastern time, nearly 3,200 flights have already been canceled domestically, to or from the United States, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.
Of those cancelled flights, about 2,680 were flights to Southwest. That was nearly two-thirds of all flights to Southwest on Tuesday and 84% of all U.S. flights canceled.
In contrast, rival Alaska Airlines had 10 percent of its flights canceled and United Airlines only 3 percent.
The airports most affected by Tuesday’s flight cancellations were Denver International Airport, followed by Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas, Chicago Midway International Airport, Baltimore/Washington International Airport, Nashville International Airport and Dallas Love Field.
As of 9:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, there were nearly 6,800 delays.
Today’s cancellations followed a full day of post-Christmas travel chaos, with 3,989 flights canceled Monday, including 2,909 flights from Southwest.
Buttigieg takes Southwest to
Southwest, attributing the travel disaster to a combination of factors, including delays due to winter storms, aggressive flight scheduling and outdated infrastructure.
“As far as I can tell, Southwest can’t even locate their own crews, let alone their own passengers, let alone their luggage,” Buttigieg said, adding that he also spoke with the airline’s union leaders representing flight attendants and pilots.
The secretary said he told CEO Jordan that he expected Southwest to actively offer refunds and reimbursements to affected passengers without their request.
“I told the CEO that we expect them to do everything they can to take care of the passengers and fix this,” he said.
Stuck travelers have humorous Winter travel stories
Buttigieg told CNN that the Department of Transportation is willing to impose fines on Southwest if evidence emerges that the company has not met its legal obligations, but he added that the department will look more closely at the airline’s customer service problems.
“While every other part of the aviation system is moving toward recovery and improving every day, this airline is actually moving in the opposite direction,” Buttigieg said.
“You have a company here that has a lot of work to do around the house,” he said.
Jordan apologized to passengers and employees in a video message released by the company Tuesday night.
“We are doing everything we can to resume normal operations, and please also know that I am very sorry,” Jordan said.
Although Jordan acknowledged problems with the company’s response, the statement said he had not planned significant changes to Southwest’s procedures in response to the mass cancellations.
“The tools we use to recover from outages serve us well 99 percent of the time, but it’s clear that we need to double down on our existing plans to upgrade systems for these extreme circumstances so that we never have to face what’s happening right now again,” Jordan said.
“We hope to be back on the right track by next week.”
So, what can Southwest passengers do?
Southwest has warned that this week’s cancellations and delays are expected to continue for several more days.
So, where does that leave customers who are in a real quandary? What should they do?
“First of all, travelers who are still stuck waiting in Southwest and need to fly somewhere should try to book a flight with another airline as soon as possible … right now, in fact,” Kyle Potter, editor of travel advice site Lean Traveler, said in an email to CNN Travel Tuesday afternoon.
“All airlines across the country are overbooked right now, so your chances of even finding a seat – let alone getting even half a decent price – are decreasing by the hour,” Potter said.
“Travelers in the middle of it all should make sure they have all their receipts: other flights, rental cars, hotel overnights, meals, whatever,” Potter said.
What should I do if my flight has been canceled or delayed?
If you find yourself stranded and your attempts to contact a customer service agent have come to nothing, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights suggests trying an international number.
“The main U.S. airlines hotline will be blocked by other passengers who will be reconnected. To reach an agent quickly, call one of the dozens of international airline offices,” Scott Keyes said.
“Agents can process your reservation just like agents based in the U.S., but there’s virtually no need to wait to go through.”
Click here to view the international releases Southwest has already released.
Multiplication of problems.
The Southwest in particular suffered from a multiplicity of problems.
The storm hit its two largest centers-Chicago and Denver-as winter sickness exhausted the staff. Southwest’s aggressive schedule and underinvestment have also been blamed.
Why Southwest is melting
The winter storm sweeping the country proved unfortunate for travelers, who began cutting back on flights for Christmas week to pre-pandemic levels.
According to FlightAware, 3,178 flights were canceled and 6,870 flights were delayed for Christmas. A total of 3,487 flights were canceled on Christmas Eve, according to FlightAware.
Friday was the worst day of the series with 5,934 cancellations, while Thursday saw nearly 2,700 cancellations.
Long lines and baggage piling up at airports
Long lines had already piled up at the Southwest Box Office at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Tuesday morning as travelers waited, trying to book flights or arrange connections.
And at Midway International in Chicago, huge clusters of unclaimed bags piled up as passengers struggled to get their luggage. Similar scenes have occurred at other airports, including Harry Reid Airport in Las Vegas and William P. Hobby Airport in Houston.
What should I do if my luggage is delayed, lost or damaged?
Passenger Tricia Jones told CNN at the Atlanta airport that she and her partner had been traveling for five days trying to return home to Wichita, Kansas, after departing from a cruise in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
After her flight was canceled, she stayed with relatives and then was diverted to Atlanta to catch a connecting flight.
“We were lucky because we were in Fort Lauderdale and my family lives in the Tampa Bay area, so we were able to rent a car to visit my family for Christmas,” Jones said. “We saw a lot of families sleeping on the floor, and it breaks my heart.”
Southwest: “keep your receipts to yourself.”
A Southwest Airlines spokesman said the recent winter storm caused a series of flight cancellations.
“As the Storm continued to rage across the country, it continued to impact many of our major resorts, and the number of cancellations increased one by one, reaching 100 to 150 to 1,000,” Jay McVeigh said at a news conference in Los Angeles.William P. Hobby Houston Airport Monday night.
“As a result of these cancellations and as a consequence, we are left with flight crews and aircraft that are out of place and in the wrong cities to continue our operations.”
McVeigh said the company’s top priority right now is safety. “We want to make sure we operate these flights safely and that we have flight crews who have legal and sufficient time to operate these flights,” he said.
“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure
What’s wrong from the pilot’s perspective
Speaking to CNN on Tuesday, Captain Mike Santoro, vice president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said the problems Southwest faced were the worst disruptions it has faced in its 16 years with the airline.
He described last week’s storm as a catalyst that helped cause serious technical problems.
“What has gone wrong is that our IT infrastructure for scheduling software is largely obsolete,” he said. “It can’t handle the number of pilots, flight attendants that we have in the system, our complex network of routes.
“We don’t have the normal hub of other major airlines. We use a two-point network that can put our crews in inappropriate places without planes.”
He added: “it’s frustrating for the pilots, the flight attendants and especially our passengers. We are tired of apologizing for Southwest, the airline pilots, our hearts go out to all the passengers, they really do.”
In other developments.
- In hard-hit Western New York State, Buffalo International Airport said in its latest tweet that it does not plan to resume passenger flights until 11 a.m. ET Wednesday, postponing an expected opening 24 hours later than planned.
- Greyhound, the largest provider of intercity bus service, issued a service warning Tuesday morning that said many of its regular flights in the upper Northeast continue to be disrupted until further notice because of winter conditions. Affected cities include Buffalo, Cleveland and Syracuse.