After days of chaos, canceled flights and stranded travelers, Southwest Airlines plans to resume normal operations “with minimal disruption” on Friday.
But it remains unclear how long it will be before passengers who have spent days in Limbo reach their destination – and receive compensation for the week-long meltdown.
“With another bank holiday weekend packed with vital connections for our valued customers and employees, we are committed to returning to a state of normality,” the airline said in a statement on Thursday.
Southwest continued to operate about a third of its normal operations Thursday and canceled 2,362 flights, about 60% of its services, according to flight tracker FlightAware. As of 9:30 a.m. Thursday, 52 flights were canceled from Los Angeles International Airport, along with 54 arriving flights and dozens more listed as delayed.
But the Dallas-based airline had fewer than 40 flights scheduled for cancellation on Friday, less than 1% of its total schedule for the day, according to FlightAware.
During the height of the cancellations, the Southwest gates and terminals at LAX and other area airports were packed with passengers showing up for flights they were told were grounded. Many travelers queued for hours to seek help. By Thursday, the chaos at the terminals appeared to have settled, although hundreds of bags were still piled up, airport officials said.
The airline has been plagued by problems since last week when a harsh winter storm battered much of the country, disrupting travel plans and causing widespread flight disruptions.
Though much of the industry recovered faster, Southwest remained in turmoil for days.
The company is the country’s largest low-cost airline with routes to various airports in California, including Los Angeles, Oakland, Burbank, Sacramento, San Diego and San Jose.
The massive disruptions in the Southwest have affected thousands of flyers, leaving them stranded without their luggage or reaching into their pockets at dozens of airports across the country to find alternative travel options, prompting a surge in demand for rental cars. The chaos has also overwhelmed crews and employees, including pilots, flight attendants and gate agents.
“We know that even our deepest apologies — to our customers, to our employees and to everyone affected by this disruption — only goes so far,” the company’s statement said on Thursday. “We have a lot of work ahead of us, including investing in new solutions to deal with widespread disruption.”
The airline launched a new website for customers to submit refunds and refund requests for meals, hotels and alternative transportation. as well as connect with luggage.
Southwest has been rushing to get its planes flying again, and mea culpa videos posted to Twitter have become almost a salve for the company as it tries to allay customer frustration, and to do so preserve what’s left of its reputation. A day after the CEO apologized to leaflets, Ryan Green, the company’s chief financial officer, said: pledged the company “We would do whatever we can and work day and night to mend our relationship with you.”
“My personal apology is the first step to put things right after many changes of plans and the experience fell short of what you expected us to be,” he said.
The airline has canceled at least 13,000 flights – well over 50% of its services – since December. 22, according to FlightAware.
A devastating winter storm that ravaged the country just before Christmas threw holiday plans into chaos. And Southwest’s fiasco was the “perfect storm” of known problems, say industry experts and union leaders at the company. They cited the company’s outdated technology and vulnerable operations, which are particularly susceptible to disruption, let alone multiple coast-to-coast weather events.
Experts explained that the US airline giant operates on a unique flight pattern – planes fly from destination to destination rather than in and out of designated hubs – that leaves little room for error. It also has no partnerships with other airlines to assist with rebookings and operates with few vacant seats or backup crew. Delays can be delayed quickly.
Green pointed to a number of updates on the company’s websites for affected travelers, including allowing flyers to travel through Jan. 14. 2 to change their itineraries online, forms to help travelers find lost luggage and submit refund requests for cancellations or expenses incurred due to the disruptions.
Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg increased pressure on the company this week“Good Morning America” on Wednesday that the massive cancellation crisis “indicates a system failure” and that the agency will be “monitoring closely” to ensure Southwest meets its customer service obligations. Southwest’s compensation for passengers should cover flights along with meals, accommodation and ground transportation because “this is the airline’s responsibility,” he said.
Times contributor Grace Toohey contributed to this report.