Southwest Airlines struggled to resume operations Wednesday after a historic meltdown and continued the majority of its flights, leaving thousands of frustrated flyers stranded at airports across the country and federal officials scrutinizing the “systems failure.”
Southwest canceled 2,508 flights on Wednesday according to flight tracker Flight Aware, with an additional 2,348 already canceled for Thursday. This follows nearly a week of turbulence that began with a severe winter storm that battered the nation and challenged airlines over the holiday period.
But as other airlines rallied, Southwest struggled to keep its operations running. The airline has canceled nearly 13,000 flights since December – well over 50% of its services. 22, according to FlightAware.
Aviation industry experts say the storm has exposed those of the company vulnerable operations and outdated technology this hampered the wearer’s ability to recover from disturbances. Southwest officials say the problems are expected to last for at least “several days”.
Southwest CEO Bob Jordan apologized to customers in a video posted on Twitter on Tuesday evening and said the carrier was “focused on getting all the pieces back in place safely to finish this rolling battle”.
But those parts — including aircraft and flight crew — have not been accounted for in dozens of places, Jordan said, and despite the airline’s best efforts, the company needs to “significantly reduce our flying” to a third of its schedule over the next few days to recover.
“The tools we use to recover from disruptions serve us well 99% of the time, but of course we need to double down on our existing plans to upgrade systems for these extreme circumstances so we never face it again what’s happening now,” he said, adding he remains optimistic the airline will be back on track before next week.
Aside from the logistics of getting planes back in the air and returning luggage to travelers, the reputation of Southwest’s customer service is at stake.
Frustrated aviators took to social media to share experiences of waiting in long queues or hour-long queues with customer service representatives, often disconnecting before they could get help when trying to rebook their trips or get a refund. Many are hoping to be compensated for additional expenses they had to make amid the chaos, such as: Rent a car or Booking with another airline.
In an email, a Southwest spokesman said the company a new online portal so customers can rebook their flights or request a refund.
“Many of the refunds are being handled on a case-by-case basis, and teams are already involved in that effort,” said Dan Landson, Southwest’s public relations consultant.
Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg increased pressure on the company this week said “Good Morning America” on Wednesday that the massive cancellations “indicate a system outage” and that the agency will be “monitoring closely” to ensure Southwest meets its customer service commitments. Southwest’s compensation for passengers should cover flights along with meals, accommodation and ground transportation because “this is the airline’s responsibility,” he said.
“This will require an extraordinary effort from Southwest, and we will be making extraordinary efforts to ensure they honor their commitments to their customers,” Buttigieg said.
After two the traffic-authoritypassengers are entitled to a refund if their flight is canceled and they decide not to travel, and if there was a “significant” change or delay to the flight – although the agency does not specifically define what counts as “significant”.
airline agents It is at its discretion to offer additional compensation for hotel expenses or a seat on another airline.
Southwest’s passenger rights policy states that “if circumstances within the airline’s control cause a customer to miss the last available flight or connection of the day to their destination, Southwest Customer Service Representatives have the authority to grant an overnight stay for that customer arrange and find the customer a hotel or motel near the airport at no additional cost. Customer service can also arrange ground transportation to the lodging facility.” However, this requires a phone call or speaking to a Southwest agent, which has itself become a challenge during the recent meltdown.
Southwest officials did not respond to questions about how many refunds have been issued in recent days.
The airline’s meltdown has hit the wallets of many of its prospective passengers.
Southwest passenger Neavaly Touray estimates she racked up a $3,000 loss after her connecting flight from Nashville to LA, which departed from Washington, DC, was canceled Monday. That includes a rental car and gas for the 35-hour drive to LA, food and clothing for her family – three children and two adults – and two nights at the Huntington Beach Hotel, which she had already paid for.
“That was our money for our holiday,” said Touray, 62. She said she heard that South West – both on the news and at her gate is encouraging Travelers can buy what they need and submit receipts through an online system.
The airline said: “They would stay true to the honor [their customers], and they would refund us for the things we encounter,” Touray said, adding she couldn’t be sure if that was guaranteed. “I only hope.”
After Kate Schelter’s flight from Oakland to Los Angeles was canceled, a gate agent at Oakland Airport gave her her travel vouchers, although she was told she would receive a refund, she said.
Like Touray, Schelter decided to ride with her children, ages 9 and 12, raising additional expenses along the way, including a hotel room and toiletries. She said she didn’t know she could be reimbursed and wasn’t sure if she kept the receipts. When she arrived in LA, Schelter spent two hours in an airport queue asking Southwest representatives if she could convert her flight credits to a refund, only to be told she had to call customer service.
She also spent the $120 she paid for an early bird check-in for herself and her kids, she said.
Schelter hasn’t tried calling Southwest yet, in part because she doesn’t want to spend hours on the phone just to get “possibly more bad information,” and will try to work things out when she gets home from vacation, she said you.
“I’m sure they’re so tied up right now,” she said.
Staff photographer Irfan Khan contributed to this story.