Southwest Airlines re-canceled thousands of flights on Tuesday following the incident. great winter storm Christmas in the US ruined travel plans, and the federal government said it would investigate why the company was lagging behind other carriers.
A day after most US airlines recovered from the storm, Southwest halted about 2,600 more flights to the east coast for the afternoon. These flights accounted for more than 80% of the 3,000 trips canceled nationwide on Tuesday, according to the tracking service FlightAware.
And it seemed certain that the chaos would continue. The airline also canceled more than 2,500 flights for Wednesday and more than 2,300 for Thursday as it tries to restore order to its mixed schedule.
In a video Southwest released late Tuesday, CEO Robert Jordan said Southwest will schedule a few days lower but hopes to “get back on track before next week.”
Jordan accused the winter storm of battering the airline’s “highly complex” network. He said Southwest’s downtime recovery tools “work 99% of the time, but we clearly need to double down on upgrading systems to avoid a repeat this week.”
“We have real work to do to get this right,” said Jordan, a 34-year-old Southwest veteran who became CEO in February. “For now, I want you to know that we’re committed to it.”
Lyn Montgomery, president of the Transport Workers Union, which represents Southwest flight attendants, said she and other labor leaders had repeatedly told management that the airline’s planning technology was not good enough.
“This was something we saw coming,” he said. “This is a very catastrophic event.”
The airline is now drawing unwanted attention from Washington.
Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has criticized airlines for previous disruptions, said his agency will examine the reasons for Southwest’s widespread cancellations and whether the airline is meeting its legal obligations to stranded customers.
Buttigieg told NBC Nightly News, “While we all understand that you can’t control the weather, this clearly crossed the line from uncontrollable weather to the airline’s direct liability.” He said Southwest should at least issue cash refunds for canceled flights and cover hotel and meal costs for stranded passengers.
In Congress, the Senate trade committee also promised an investigation. Two Senate Democrats urged Southwest to provide “significant” compensation for stranded passengers, saying the airline has the money because it plans to pay out $428 million in dividends next month.
The size and severity of the storm swept through many airlines, but most of the canceled flights Tuesday took place at airports such as Denver, Chicago Midway, Las Vegas, Baltimore and Dallas, where Southwest is a major carrier.
Spirit Airlines and Alaska Airlines canceled about 10% of their flights, and American, Delta, United and JetBlue had much lower cancellation percentages.
Danielle Zanin swore she would never fly to the Southwest again after she, her husband and two young children returned to Illinois from Albuquerque, New Mexico for four days, after several flights were canceled and after sleeping at the airport. They stopped at airports in Denver and Phoenix and arrived in Chicago only after leaving Southwest and paying $1,400 for American Airlines’ four one-way tickets.
“‘Oh my God, we’re getting on the plane!’ “I remember saying. To be honest, I was shocked because I thought we were stuck in airports forever.”
Zanin plans to seek reimbursement from Southwest for some of his original tickets, plus any new tickets in America and any extra expenses (total about $2,000) for rental cars, parking, Uber rides, and meals.
“I don’t have good intentions that they’re going to do much,” he said.
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