Southwest Airlines disruption leaves customers stranded, call centers flooded

(CNN) – The travel mess of last week’s winter weather lingers this week like a vicious hangover — and the headaches are of migraine proportions for Southwest Airlines, its CEO Bob Jordan, airline employees and most. Due to this, the passengers were disappointed on Monday.

According to flight tracking website FlightAware, nearly 3,900 flights in or out of the US had already been canceled as of 8 a.m. ET Monday, while nearly 7,500 were delayed.

But the Southwest is a huge part of them. None of the other US carriers have canceled nearly as many flights as Southwest has.

The Dallas-based airline had canceled 70% of its flights — more than 2,850 in total — as of 8 a.m. ET Monday, According to FlightAware.

It canceled around 300 flights in a span of half an hour on Monday afternoon.

And it looks like Southwest’s pain will spread by Tuesday.

More than 2,400 of those flights had already been canceled as of 8 p.m. Monday. That’s the largest portion of the nearly 2,600 flight cancellations reported so far for all US airlines on Tuesday.

CEO: ‘Many issues in operation’

On Christmas night, before Monday’s meltdown, Jordan told employees the airline had “a lot of issues in operation right now.”

A transcript of the message to Southwest employees was provided to CNN by an aviation source.

Jordan told employees, “Part of what we’re suffering from is a lack of equipment. We’ve talked a lot about modernizing operations and needing to do that.

Customers are complaining loudly on social media About long lines to speak with representatives, problems with lost bags and excessive wait times or busy signals on the airline’s customer service telephone lines. One passenger told CNN that her family had been on the phone with Southwest for 10 hours.

Customers wait to rebook their Southwest Airlines flight at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Monday.

Customers wait to rebook their Southwest Airlines flight at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Monday.


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

He reported that around 150 customers were waiting in a long line at one point, with the line forming behind the ticket counter.

‘Disruption in our network’

Southwest responded to the mass cancellations in an emailed statement Monday afternoon:

“With several days of continuous extreme winter weather across our network, the continuing challenges are affecting our customers and employees in a significant way that is unacceptable,” the statement said.

,We are working with security at the forefront to resolve the massive disruption immediately. … On the other hand, we will work for those we have let down, including our employees.”

In an earlier statement to CNN on Monday, Southwest Airlines said it was “experiencing disruption to our network as a result of the impact (of the winter storm) on the totality of our operations.”

Some of the airports seeing the biggest issues include Denver, Las Vegas, Chicago Midway, Baltimore/Washington, Dallas Love Field and Phoenix Sky Harbor.

Customers faced long lines at Southwest counters at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Monday.

Customers faced long lines at Southwest counters at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Monday.


Calls made by CNN to Southwest’s customer service Monday afternoon did not go through, so customers were not able to line up to speak with a representative. Southwest told CNN that it is “fully prepared to answer the call.”

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

A Tweet There were more than 1,000 replies directing customers from Southwest to self-service options — many of them angry — as of 6 p.m. ET.

One reply read in part: “Stop blaming the weather! Had to buy a first class ticket on another airline but it closed on time! You still have our luggage with the medicine inside! On the phone Can’t talk!”

ripple effect in the southwest

In a Sunday night message to employees, Jordan said, “We need to be able to design solutions rapidly.” He said the airline is “committed and invested” in improving its systems.

The president of the union representing Southwest’s flight attendants told CNN’s Pamela Brown in an on-air interview Monday that those systems have left their members stranded.

“The phone system the company uses is not working. They don’t have enough manpower to deliver scheduling changes to flight attendants, and this has created a ripple effect that is causing chaos across the country,” Lynn Montgomery, president of TWU Local 556, told CNN.

Some flight attendants have to sleep at airports as a result, she said.

Flight crew treatment called ‘despicable’

Montgomery expressed the outcry on behalf of workers and customers in a news release Monday afternoon.

“The way Southwest Airlines has treated its flight crew can only be described as ‘disgusting,'” Montgomery said. “We know the demands of holiday travel. We know winter storms. And trust me, we know how to push ahead and work long hours when called upon to do so; we fly There are attendants.

“But at this point, years of failure by management, despite many unions demanding modernisation, has left flight attendants exhausted, stranded, hungry and cold – at Christmas! It affects lives and for all Security is at risk.”

“Company failures happen year-round, but are especially egregious at Christmas,” Montgomery said. “Our customers struggle with this as do thousands of our flight attendants.”

FlightAware spokeswoman Kathleen Bangs said in an on-air interview that Southwest’s schedule includes short flights, which is causing some problems. “In those times of change things go downhill,” Bangs said.

CNN has reached out to the airline for comment on Jordan’s video message.

What can stranded passengers do?

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

Scott Keyes said, “The main hotline for US airlines will be clogged with rebookings by other passengers. To quickly connect with an agent, call one of the airline’s dozens of international offices.”

“Agents can handle your reservation just as US-based can, but there’s really no waiting.”

10 hour phone call

Michelle Perkins, her husband JJ and their six children’s flights were canceled while waiting at the airport in Las Vegas on Christmas Eve. He said the family was going to Orlando for a surprise holiday trip for the kids.

The trip “went from hero to zero” after the cancellation, said Perkins, who posted on Instagram a video of the family preparing for the trip.

Perkins was traveling with children ranging in age from 17 years to 15 months. She told CNN that when their flight was cancelled, they headed to baggage claim to collect their belongings along with their car seats.

“We went to retrieve our luggage and car seats, waited for over an hour with six children in tears, only to be told that … bags and car seats to our destination in Orlando must continue.”

Perkins said her husband had been on the phone with Southwest Airlines for about 10 hours to get a refund for his flight and file a claim for his baggage. She said she was told her luggage was at the Las Vegas airport.

“We went back to the airport to pick it up, and they denied that our luggage was still there, we told them it was tracked to Las Vegas, so they changed their story and said it was on the tarmac.” is in a safe place.” And they can’t get it because there are too many bags.”

As of Monday afternoon, they have yet to be met with their checked baggage.

Perkins said they are just thankful they are all together for the holidays and can go back home to Las Vegas instead of being stranded in another city.

Can you see any relief?

CNN meteorologist Tom Sater details the latest forecast as a deadly winter storm continues to blast across much of the US with brutal winter weather.

It may be next week before this is all fully settled.

“When there are more than 10,000 flight cancellations in the past week, it’s time for airlines to act and readjust to passenger backlogs,” Keyes told CNN Travel in an email.

“While this will depend on the weather forecast (which looks promising for most parts of the country) and how many travelers have canceled their holiday plans, I expect things to be largely back to normal by next week, said Keyes.

And why are so many people having trouble rebooking?

“A complicating factor for those hoping to be reaccommodated is the fact that there are very few seats available this season,” Keys said.

“This is both because Christmas and New Years are one of the most popular times of year to travel, and because the number of flights on schedule is still 15-20% lower this year, making the challenge even more difficult for those occur that need to be rebooked”

the buffalo is still crawling

Meanwhile, in hard-hit western New York, Buffalo International Airport said in its most recent tweet that it plans to resume passenger flights at 11 a.m. ET Wednesday, 24 hours later than previously anticipated. Pushes back hopes of reopening.

The temperature at the airport was 19 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 7 Celsius) at about 8 a.m. ET Monday, with the bulk of the light snow falling the area has already seen.

And it’s not just the airport affected there. Extreme cold conditions made road travel risky.

In New York state’s western Erie County, emergency restrictions on driving were lifted in some communities but remained in place in Buffalo, County Executive Mark Polonkarz said Monday.

“The City of Buffalo is impassable in most areas, while a main road or two may be open to emergency traffic, most secondary as well as side roads have not yet been touched,” Polonkarz said.

He said the main roads cleared are mainly for the use of life-saving measures to open up areas around hospitals and nursing homes.

last week was bitter

A winter storm that swept across the US boded ill for travelers, which began to push Christmas week flight numbers back toward pre-pandemic levels.

According to FlightAware, 3,178 flights were canceled and 6,870 were delayed on Christmas Day.

According to FlightAware, a total of 3,487 flights were canceled on Christmas Eve.

Friday was the worst day in the sequence with 5,934 cancellations, while Thursday saw nearly 2,700 cancellations.

This megablast of winter weather is forecast to gradually moderate this week over the eastern two-thirds of the country.

CNN’s Ross Levitt, Amanda Jackson, Rebekah Reece, Chris Boyett and Artemis Moshtaghian contributed to this story.

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