Southwest Airlines apologizes for canceling more than 2,700 flights on Monday

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Dallas-based Southwest Airlines apologized to customers on Monday after canceling more than 2,700 flights across the country – more than two-thirds of its schedule – as it tries to recover from an operational meltdown that dates back to a storm. arctic on Thursday.

The carrier is cutting two-thirds of its flights over the next few days to try to get flight attendants and pilots back in position to reset its operations, director of operations Andrew Watterson wrote in a memo to employees late on Monday. It’s a move that could help stabilize operations, but it will also reduce flight options for thousands of passengers stranded in another busy travel week.

Southwest has canceled more than 8,000 flights since Thursday and is already canceling flights for Tuesday in an attempt to get planes, flight attendants and pilots in the right places to fly. About a third of Southwest flights in and out of Dallas Love Field were canceled on Monday, nearly 300 in total, according to Flightaware.com.

“It’s been total and utter chaos,” said Lyn Montgomery, president of the TWU Local 556 union that represents Southwest flight attendants. “This is not a personnel issue, it has nothing to do with flight attendants not being able to work, it has to do with archaic and outdated systems.”

The delays and cancellations prompted the US Department of Transportation to announce late on Monday that it would be investigating how Southwest is handling the situation and responding to customers.

“USDOT is concerned about Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays and reports of a lack of prompt customer service,” the agency said in a Twitter post. “The Department will review whether the cancellations were manageable and whether Southwest is meeting its customer service plan.”

Southwest passengers Jessica Bienert and her 15-year-old son, Will, were stranded at Dallas Love Field overnight on Christmas Day before renting a car to return home.

After arriving in Dallas for a connecting flight around 3:30 pm, the airline consistently delayed the flight to the final destination for several hours, finally canceling it after midnight. The mother and son spent a sleepless Sunday night sitting in a long line in the airport hallway – hoping to rebook their flight to Albuquerque, NM, where they had plans to go skiing.

“It became a disaster area, because I had never seen an airport at 1 am that was still full,” she said.

The 45-year-old mother, who flies frequently to work, said she was unable to reschedule her flight on Southwest’s app or website.

“Everything was at a standstill, so you could only speak to a ticketing agent, and the lines were insane,” she said. “They would only have one person at the box office.”

When they arrived at the box office at 6:00 am, Biernet said he decided he wanted to go home to Little Rock. She arrived at the Budget kiosk early in the morning to rent a car and returned home around 2:30 pm on Monday.

“It was kind of a sad Christmas,” she said. “I saw old ladies cry, fall at the airport and entire families with children. I was more heartbroken because of the people around me.”

So far, the airline has not reimbursed Biernet for any of its flights. The duo’s baggage still remains at Love Field.

Southwest blamed the cold weather systems that swept across the country late last week and created freezing conditions in Denver and Chicago, two of the company’s biggest markets.

“With consecutive days of extreme winter across our network, the ongoing challenges are impacting our customers and employees in a significant way that is unacceptable,” Southwest said in a statement. “And our sincere apologies for that are just getting started.”

But while other airlines struggled with cancellations in those days, including Chicago-based United and Fort Worth-based American Airlines, only a handful of carriers are still reporting hefty cancellations five days later.

There were more than 3,700 US flight cancellations on Monday, according to Flightaware.com, with the vast majority due to Southwest Airlines. Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, which has also canceled more than 7,000 flights since Thursday, began to see operations improve dramatically on Monday. About 9% of Delta’s flights, 273 in total, were canceled on Monday.

Southwest CEO Bob Jordan has said in recent months that the company needs to make big improvements to its technology infrastructure to avoid large-scale cancellations, particularly those that reschedule flight attendants and pilots.

In a memo sent to employees on Sunday, Watterson said Southwest’s systems are “outperformed in situations of this scale.”

“Big problems composed of too many moving variables bog down the systems trying to solve them,” Watterson said in the memo. “While we need automation to recover from something of this scale, in some roles, automation also develops issues that need to be addressed and corrected, and that requires a manual solution until they are resolved.”

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Union leaders said that investments and small changes made so far have not resulted in improvements. Flight attendants were put on hold for eight to 12 hours trying to be transferred to new flights, Montgomery said.

Thousands of flight attendants across the country have lost sleep over hotel rooms not being booked, especially with flights being rerouted.

Meanwhile, the number of pilots and flight attendants reporting fatigue from long journeys and delays is rising, compounding problems across the country, she said.

“They’re trying to stop the dominoes from falling,” Montgomery said. “We have another big travel holiday right around the corner with New Year’s Eve.”

Southwest Airlines Pilots Association President Casey Murray said there are hundreds of pilots across the country waiting to board flights, but they are having trouble getting in touch with Southwest’s scheduling team. In some cases, pilots are showing up at airports and management is making a list of who is there, Murray said.

“We have them not only waiting for assignments, but scheduling doesn’t know where they are,” Murray said.

Randy Barnes, who runs the TWU Local 555 union that covers Southwest’s earth and ramp workers, said the company has been sending workers to overcrowded stations in Denver and Chicago.

“While everyone else is running into these storms and cold, our people are running out of these storms,” Barnes said. “But the longer we are out, we need time to warm up. because no person’s body can be outside in these sub-zero temperatures and single-digit temperatures for very long.

Southwest has already canceled about 10% of its programming on Tuesday, with more cancellations likely.

“This safety-first effort is intentional, ongoing, and necessary to return to normal reliability that minimizes last-minute inconveniences,” Southwest said in a statement. “We anticipate further changes with an already reduced level of flights as we approach the upcoming New Year holiday period. And we are working to reach customers whose travel plans will change with specific information and their available options.”

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