Mass Southwest Airlines cancellations spark chaos

Southwest Airlines canceled more than 2,900 flights Monday, disrupting holiday plans nationwide, stranding travelers and causing chaos at some airports as much of the country suffered from the aftereffects of a historic winter storm. .

The airline blamed extreme weather for the cancellations, saying in a statement, “Our heartfelt apologies for this are just beginning. … We recognize the shortfall and sincerely apologise.”

Frustrated travelers, including those at Los Angeles International Airport, reported hours-long lines, lost luggage and unscheduled flights after Southwest routes were canceled or delayed — some expected to fly home for days. Told not to.

According to tracking site FlightAware, the low-cost carrier had canceled about 70% of its scheduled flights nationwide – some 2,905 flights, far more than any other major US carrier. The site said that across all carriers, more than 3,900 domestic and international flights were cancelled.

Based on FlightAware data, LAX suffered 77 cancellations, or 9% of all its Southwest flights, and 125 delays. But it fared better than other airports across the country, including Sacramento, San Jose, Denver, Las Vegas and Atlanta. Sacramento canceled 45% of its flights and San Jose 29%.

The US Department of Transportation said Monday afternoon that it “Concerned by Southwest’s unacceptable rate cancellations and delays,” as well as reports of a “lack of prompt customer service.”

“The department will investigate whether cancellations were controllable and whether Southwest is complying with its customer service plan,” the agency said in a tweet.

As departure screens at airports across the country lit up with delays and cancellations, travelers looked for other ways to reach family and friends. Some scrambled for rental cars, opting to make the long drive rather than wait at the airport.

A one-and-a-half-hour flight from Sacramento to Los Angeles turned into a six-hour drive on Monday for Matt Grippi. He was rushing to catch an international flight scheduled for Tuesday and didn’t count on Southwest to get him to LAX on time.

They said their only option was to hold out for 26 hours at a cost of thousands of dollars.

Grippi said, “Every possible flight that I could have taken to go home today was canceled.” “Communication from Southwest has been terrible. Not sure I’ll ever be able to trust them again.”

Passengers wait in an airport terminal and a Southwest Airlines plane is parked behind windows.

Passengers wait in Terminal 1 for delayed and canceled Southwest Airlines flights at Hollywood Burbank Airport on Monday.

(Kirby Lee / Associated Press)

Monday’s cancellations followed days of other travel disruptions from a nearly unprecedented weather event that stretched from the Great Lakes to the Rio Grande. About 60% of the US population faced some form of winter weather advisory or warning, and temperatures from east of the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians fell well below normal. Nationwide, the storm was blamed for at least 50 deaths.

Travelers’ weather woes are likely to continue, with hundreds of flight cancellations already and more expected after a bomb cyclone – when atmospheric pressure in a severe storm drops very quickly – brings heavy winds and blizzards including snow. situation arises.

In a statement Monday, Southwest Airlines pointed to “extreme winter weather” across the country and called the disruptions “unacceptable.”

The Dallas-based airline said it was “fully staffed and prepared” for the holiday weekend, but “operational conditions” due to inclement weather across much of the country have forced “daily changes to our flight schedule in volume and magnitude.” Forced out are the tools our teams are using to recover an airline that is still operating at capacity.

The company said it was working to re-establish flight crews to “return to normal reliability”, but indicated that flights could continue to see changes through the New Year holiday.

“On the other hand, we will work for those we have let down, including our employees,” Southwest said.

But the president of the union representing the company’s flight attendants told the Dallas Morning News that the “complete and utter chaos” was not due to a staff shortage, but Southwest’s “archaic, out-of-date systems.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that on Sunday, Southwest Chief Executive Officer Bob Jordan told the company’s employees in a message that it could take a few more days to get back on track.

The company said that as delays and cancellations mounted, call times to the airline’s customer service lines averaged more than two hours, with some callers waiting up to four hours to speak with a representative.

A TikTok user’s post showed a video of a terminal at San Diego International Airport, with passengers waiting to speak to Southwest representatives. The caption read, “San Diego airport is WILDDD. 8 hour line to talk to Southwest attendants.”

Randy Silver, 29, said he recorded the video on Christmas Day after returning from Sacramento, where he spent the holiday with his girlfriend’s family. Luckily, he said, his flight out of Sacramento was only delayed by 20 minutes. But upon arrival in San Diego, he and other passengers were forced to sit on the tarmac for about an hour because there was no gate available at which the plane could land.

He said he was stunned by the frenzied scene that awaited him as he stepped off the plane, adding that he had never seen the San Diego airport so busy before.

“You can definitely tell the people who were standing in line to talk to the flight attendants were angry, frustrated, stressed, frustrated by what was happening,” said Silver, who was on the front lines from her job in technology sales. Flies frequently.

And while he acknowledged other passengers had a more difficult time than him, he said he also understands why some airlines are refusing to fly if it’s not safe to do so.

“It’s really unfortunate [that] A once-in-a-generation storm came during the biggest travel day of the year,” he said. “As much as people want to be with family and friends, I always want to err on the side of safety and caution.”

All Southwest Airlines flights from San Diego were canceled after Monday afternoon. Most all Southwest Airlines flights arriving in San Diego were also canceled, according to the San Diego International Airport website, except for one plane arriving from Honolulu.

Including Southwest and all other airlines, there were at least 90 canceled flights and at least 51 delayed flights at San Diego International Airport on Monday, representing about 42% of all flights on the busy travel day, according to FlightAware.

Maya Polone was one of the few Southwest customers escorted out of Hollywood Burbank Airport on Monday after her original flight on Sunday was canceled twice. She spent three hours at the airport trying to get a new flight after the Southwest website and app failed.

“The only way to rebook was to go to the airport and talk to a human,” said Poleon, 28.

Meanwhile, her mother, Emily Payne, had stayed four hours to the southwest trying to help her. Poleon successfully made it to Sacramento by 2 p.m., but some of her fellow passengers were told they would not get a flight home until at least Wednesday, she said.

Polon said people at the scene were angry and police became embroiled in an altercation between a passenger and Southwest employees.

The Associated Press and the San Diego Union-Tribune contributed to this report.

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