Southwest under scrutiny after wave of storm cancellations

Major U.S. airlines were broadsided by the massive weekend winter storm that swept across large swaths of the country but had largely recovered heading into Monday, except for one.

Problems at Southwest Airlines appeared to snowball after the worst of the storm passed. It cancelled more than 70% of its flights Monday, more than 60% on Tuesday, and warned that it would operate just over a third of its usual schedule in the days ahead to allow crews to get back to where they needed to be.

American, United, Delta and JetBlue, suffered cancellations rates of between none and 2% by Tuesday.

According to WXIN Channel 59, all 45 of Southwest Airlines scheduled flights out of Indianapolis International Airport on Monday evening were canceled. At least 38 are canceled for Tuesday.

The national disparity among carriers has triggered a closer look at Southwest operations by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which called the rate of cancellations “disproportionate and unacceptable,” and sought to ensure that the Dallas carrier was sticking by its obligations to stranded customers.

The size and severity of the storm created havoc for airlines. Airports were overwhelmed by intense snowfall and drifts. Airlines cancelled as many as 20% of their flights Saturday and Sunday and Buffalo Niagara International Airport, close to the epicenter of the storm, remains closed Tuesday.

Yet it has become clear that Southwest is suffering a disproportionate disruption. Of the 2,890 flight cancellations in the U.S. early Tuesday, 2,522 were called off by Southwest.

Southwest spokesman Jay McVay said at a press conference in Houston that cancellations snowballed as storm systems moved across the country, leaving flight crews and planes out of place.

“So we’ve been chasing our tails, trying to catch up and get back to normal safely, which is our number one priority as quickly as we could,” he said. “And that’s exactly how we ended up where we are today.”

Passengers stood in long lines trying to rebook their flights.

The Department of Transportation said on Twitter that it was “concerned by Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays & reports of lack of prompt customer service.” The tweet said the department would look into whether Southwest could have done anything about the cancellations and whether the airline was complying with its customer service plan.

Bryce Burger and his family were supposed to be on a cruise to Mexico departing from San Diego on Dec. 24, but their flight from Denver was cancelled without warning or notice, he said Tuesday. The flight was rebooked through Burbank, California, but that flight was canceled while they sat at the gate.

“Just like my kids’ Christmas sucks. It’s horrible,” Burger said by phone from Salt Lake, where the family decided to drive after giving up the cruise.

The family’s luggage is still at the Denver airport and Burger doesn’t know if he can get a refund for the cruise because the flight to California was booked separately.

Burger’s call logs show dozens of unsuccessful attempts to reach Southwest over two days. The company did respond to a tweet he sent. He said they offered him and his family each a $250 voucher.

Southwest CEO Bob Jordan told The Wall Street Journal in an interview that the airline would operate just over a third of its usual schedule to allow crews to get back to where they needed to be.

“We had a tough day today. In all likelihood we’ll have another tough day tomorrow as we work our way out of this,” he said Monday evening. “This is the largest scale event that I’ve ever seen.”

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4 thoughts on “Southwest under scrutiny after wave of storm cancellations

  1. Here is something going around the internet: Shared this morning in a travel group:
    ————————
    My friend’s husband is a pilot with Southwest. He just posted this an hour ago. I’m not including his name or the photos he shared of packed SWA employee rooms at the airports over the past couple of days (in case his post comes back to bite him with the company—even though he’s stating facts.) He also posted a screenshot of a fellow pilot on hold with SWA Scheduling for over 22 hours. Anyway, here’s some insight for those wondering if this massive round of SWA cancellations is really all due to weather and staffing issues:
    “I don’t know what to say. Southwest Airlines has imploded. Their antiquated software system has completely fried. Planes are parked. Crews are stranded in the airports with the passengers, volunteering to take the passengers in the parked planes but the software won’t accept it. Phone lines are overwhelmed for both passenger and crews. I personally spent over two hours trying to get ahold of anyone in the company last night after midnight. A Captain and I did manage to get the one flight put together on Christmas night and got people home. Kudos to the ops agent and dispatcher for making it happen. We had to manually input a lot of the data and it took over an hour to coordinate with dispatch going back and forth running numbers.
    We spent hours trying to get the company to answer and get us a hotel when we landed as they’re all sold out. We were only put in a call que for hours before hanging up. I found one hotel with 4 rooms and we bought our own rooms at 2:30am. I even paid for a Flight Attendants room. We literally have crews sleeping on the airport floors all over the country with nowhere to go. Crews have been calling to fly anyone, anywhere, but the company says the system needs a reset. They have effectively shut down the operations for the rest of year, running 1/3 of the flights so that they can let the computer find and locate the crews and aircraft. Gate agents are in tears. They’ve been yelled at, cussed at, slapped and spit on. Flight attendants have been taking a beating. The frontline employees have had little support or communication. Terminals are standing room only with people having been there for days. Pilot lounges are packed with pilots ready to fly and nowhere to go.
    Embarrassing is an understatement. I’m going on my second of three days off, still stuck on the east coast and still expected to show up in the morning with no schedule. And I’m willing to fly all day if needed. Because that’s nothing compared to the passengers needing meds in bags that are lost and mothers traveling with kids, having been stuck for the same amount of days in the terminal. In 24 years, I’ve never seen anything like this. Heads need to roll! Rumors on media are floating that there is a lack of crews and pilots are staging sick calls. Absolutely not true at all. This is a computer system meltdown. Thousands of crew members are sitting in hotels and airports with nowhere to go. This airline has failed miserably.”

  2. The way Southwest schedules planes and crews – eschewing the hub/spoke used by other carriers – is the root of their problem, and why I avoid them nowadays.

    1. Get’em Mayor Pete. Lol! I’m sure they’re trying to sink their business and reputation at Southwest.

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