Southwest’s canceled flights draw federal scrutiny

ATLANTA – Federal scrutiny is mounting. CEO apologizes to customers.

The collapse of Southwest Airlines, one of the worst industry watchers have seen in decades, entered another day Wednesday, leaving angry customers stranded, separated from their families and some still carrying Christmas gifts they had planned to deliver days earlier.

There was no relief Wednesday: Southwest canceled more than 2,300 flights, or 58 percent of its scheduled flights for the day. According to FlightAwareA flight tracking service.

The company said it could take a few days before the knots are untangled and normal service resumes. More than 2,300 flights on Thursday, or 58 percent of the airline’s scheduled total, had already been canceled by Wednesday morning.

“I’m not mad at them,” said Tierza Isani Parham, standing in a winding line at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport’s north terminal Tuesday afternoon, hoping a Southwest employee would be willing to listen. “I’m angry the way they did it.”

Southwest’s operating configuration, which differs from most major carriers, has come under intense scrutiny after a winter storm disrupted travel plans across the United States last week. Southwest was unable to get its flights back into the air after the storm, while thousands of customers were left stranded and struggling to rebook.

Southwest has canceled most of its flights over the past three days and is poised to do so again on Thursday. In total, nearly 11,000 Southwest flights have been canceled since last Thursday, according to FlightAware.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on “Good Morning America” ​​Wednesday that “meltdown” is “the only word I can think of to describe what’s going on at Southwest Airlines.”

“We’re past the point where they can say it’s a weather issue,” Mr. Buttigieg said. He added: “This represents a system failure and they need to ensure that these stranded passengers get to where they need to go and that they are adequately compensated.”

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Several passengers said on Wednesday that they are yet to get refunds for canceled flights. And many were without their suitcases, which either somehow reached their destination without them or disappeared into the baggage claim pile at the airport.

Hailey Zeiler, an account executive at ABC News, was visiting family in Florida for the holidays, but her flight back from Orlando to Washington was canceled after waiting more than six hours in the terminal on Christmas night. up to

23 year old Ms. Zeiler booked an unusually expensive flight on another airline to return home on Tuesday, but is without her luggage, which includes a ring sent by her stepfather and other important possessions.

“That ring is priceless,” she said. Also in the bag: her computer for work, Christmas presents and all her toiletries.

“This is my livelihood,” he said, still feeling lucky to be able to come home. She said she was worried someone might swipe her after seeing videos of luggage stacked around the carousels.

“You start to get nervous,” she said. “You hope everyone has a good heart.”

At Chicago Midway International Airport, the terminal was crowded with travelers and their relatives trying to retrieve bags.

Chicago resident Craig Byrd said his teenage daughter’s Southwest flight to the city for Christmas was canceled when her bags arrived at the airport without her, her luggage tracker indicated. He waited four hours on Wednesday, but could not find the Southwest luggage.

“I will wait another hour and come back tomorrow,” said the 60-year-old Mr. Byrd said. “We had a lot of plans for the weekend. I’m very disappointed with Southwest; their credibility is in question.

Senator Maria Cantwell, chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said in a statement Tuesday that the committee would investigate the reasons for Southwest’s grounding, adding that “the issues Southwest Airlines has experienced over the past several days are beyond the weather.”

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“Many airlines fail to adequately communicate with customers when a flight is cancelled,” he said. “Consumers deserve stronger protections, including an updated consumer refund provision.”

Southwest Chief Executive, Bob JordanHe apologized to customers in a video on Tuesday night, saying it could take several days for staff to resolve the “huge conundrum”.

“Our plan for the next few days is to operate a reduced schedule and redeploy our people and aircraft,” Mr. Jordan said. “We’re making progress and we’re confident of being back on track before next week.”

The problems stem in part from the carrier’s unique “point-to-point” model, in which planes fly from destination to destination without returning to one or two major hubs. Most airlines follow a “hub-and-spoke” model, in which flights typically return to the hub airport after flying to other cities.

When bad weather strikes, hub and spoke airlines may close certain routes and plan to resume operations when skies clear. But bad weather could knock out many flights and routes in a point-to-point pattern, leaving Southwest employees unable to resume normal operations.

Last week’s big snowstorm exposed other vulnerabilities in Southwest’s network. Inadequate computer systems made it difficult to move workers to where they were needed most. In addition, Southwest did not have contracts with other airlines and was unable to rebook passengers on competitors’ flights, forcing Southwest to wait several days until it cleared its backlog.

Failures Ms. Travelers like Barham are scrambling to make alternate plans, sometimes unable to do so.

Mrs. Barham planned to spend the days after Christmas with his family at Disney World — a birthday present for his son and his wife and a Christmas present for his grandson. He flew from Atlanta to Baltimore to meet his oldest son, who didn’t want to fly alone, and then returned to Atlanta before his flight to Tampa on Christmas Day.

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His youngest son and his family entered Disney. Even her bags went to Florida.

But his Sunday flight was canceled and he spent Christmas Day at the airport. After waiting until 4:30 a.m. the next morning, she said she was told she would be put on the plane at 6 a.m. The flight was overbooked, and Mrs Barham became a standby passenger. The plane took off with her bags, but without her. The next flight was delayed and then cancelled. Then another delay, another cancellation. And then the plane? Also cancelled.

“I need my makeup,” mrs. Barham said with a laugh.

Waiting in line at the Atlanta airport on Tuesday, Anthony Malloy, 63, of Queens, N.Y., said he wouldn’t be able to get on a flight before Friday. She said she had no choice but to arrive at the airport after her Tuesday flight was canceled because Southwest customer service was down and changes were not available online.

He was eager to return home, as his twin brother had flown in from California to meet him in New York. Mr. Malloy came to Atlanta a week ago to visit a friend.

“It’s really debilitating to think it has to end,” he said.

Mr. for South West. This is not Malloy’s first frustrating trip as he is one of thousands of passengers affected. Delays and cancellations in June 2021. During that time, he spent $98 on an Uber from a remote airport to get home to Queens and didn’t get his luggage for three days. As an apology, the airline gave him a flight voucher, which he used to travel to Atlanta.

“It would not have been such a good idea to redeem the voucher,” he said.

Robert Chiarito Contributed reporting from Chicago.

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