Southwest Airlines outage leaves customers lost and call centers swamped

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(CNN) – Last week’s winter travel mess is lingering like a cruel hangover this week — and the headaches are migraine-sized for Southwest Airlines, its CEO Bob Jordan, airline employees and, most of all, its frustrated passengers on Monday.

More than 3,700 flights in, in or out of the US had already been canceled as of 6 pm ET on Monday, according to flight tracking website FlightAware, while more than 6,700 flights were delayed.

But Southwest is responsible for a large portion of them. None of the other US airlines canceled nearly as many flights or as much of their schedule as Southwest.

The Dallas-based airline canceled more than two-thirds of its flights – about 2,800 in total – as of 6pm on Monday, according to FlightAware.

At one point, it canceled about 300 flights in the half-hour period on Monday afternoon.

CEO: ‘Many problems in the operation’

On Christmas night, before Monday’s meltdown, Jordan told employees the airline has “a lot of issues operating right now”.

CNN received a transcript of the message to Southwest employees from an aviation source.

Jordan told employees, “Part of what we’re suffering from is the lack of tools. We’ve talked a lot about modernizing the operation and the need to do that.

On social media, customers are loudly complaining about long lines to speak with representatives, problems with lost bags and excessive wait times or busy signals on the airline’s customer service telephone lines. One passenger told CNN that his family was on the phone for 10 hours with Southwest.

Customers wait to rebook their Southwest Airlines flight at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Monday.

Customers wait to rebook their Southwest Airlines flight at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Monday.


CNN’s Carlos Suarez spoke to frustrated passengers queuing at the Southwest counter at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Monday.

He reported that around 150 customers were waiting in a long queue at one point to rebook, with the line meandering behind the ticket counter.

‘Outages in our network’

Southwest responded to the mass cancellations in an emailed statement Monday afternoon:

“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,” the statement reads.

🇧🇷We are working with security at the forefront to address large-scale outages with urgency. … On the other hand, we will work to make things right for those we let down, including our employees.”

In an earlier statement to CNN on Monday, Southwest Airlines said it is “experiencing disruptions to our network as a result of the lingering effects (of the winter storm) on our entire operation.”

Some of the airports with the biggest problems are Denver, Las Vegas, Chicago Midway, Baltimore/Washington, Dallas Love Field and Phoenix Sky Harbor.

Customers encountered long lines at Southwest counters Monday at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

Customers encountered long lines at Southwest counters Monday at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.


Calls placed Monday afternoon by CNN to Southwest customer service went unanswered, so customers couldn’t even get in line to speak with a representative. Southwest told CNN it is “fully equipped to take calls.”

The airline also says that “those whose flights have been canceled can request a full refund or receive a flight credit, which does not expire.”

ONE tweet from Southwest, directing customers to self-service options, had more than 1,000 responses — many of them angry — by 6 pm ET.

One of the answers, in part, read: “Stop blaming TIME! I had to buy a first class ticket on another airline, but it took off right away! You still have our luggage with medicine in it! I can’t talk on the phone!”

Ripple Effects in the Southwest

In Sunday night’s message to employees, Jordan said, “We need to be able to produce solutions faster.” He said the airline is “committed and investing” in improving its systems.

The president of the union representing Southwest flight attendants told CNN’s Pamela Brown in an on-air interview Monday that such systems have left its members stranded.

“The phone system the company uses is simply not working. They just don’t have enough manpower to give the flight attendants the time changes, and this has created a ripple effect that is creating chaos across the country,” Lyn Montgomery, president of TWU Local 556, told CNN.

She said that some flight attendants had to sleep in airports as a result.

Treatment of flight crew called ‘despicable’

Montgomery expressed outrage on behalf of workers and customers late Monday afternoon in a press release.

“The way Southwest Airlines treated its crews can only be called ‘despicable,'” Montgomery said. “We know the demands of holiday travel. We know the winter storms. And believe me, we know how to step up and work long hours when called upon to do so; we are flight attendants.

“But at this point, the many years of management failure, despite many unions’ demands for modernization, have left flight attendants tired, trapped, hungry and cold – by Christmas! It affects lives and threatens everyone’s safety. “

“Company failures are happening year-round, but they are particularly egregious at Christmas,” Montgomery said. “Our customers have struggled with this, as have our thousands of flight attendants.”

Kathleen Bangs, a spokeswoman for FlightAware, said in an on-air interview that Southwest’s schedule includes shorter flights with shorter return times that are causing some of the problems. “These response times mess things up,” Bangs said.

CNN has reached out to the airline for comment on Jordan’s video message.

What can stranded passengers do?

If you’ve been left in the lurch and your efforts to reach a customer service agent aren’t going anywhere, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights suggests trying an international number.

“The main US airline hotline will be crowded with other passengers being rebooked. To quickly speak with an agent, call any one of the airline’s dozens of international offices,” said Scott Keyes.

“Agents can handle your booking the same way Americans do, but there’s virtually no waiting to finish.”

A 10 hour phone call

Michelle Perkins, her husband JJ and their six children had their flights canceled while waiting at the Las Vegas airport on Christmas Eve. The family was heading to Orlando for a surprise trip for the kids, she said.

“I went from hero to zero” after the trip was canceled, said Perkins, who posted it on Instagram along with a video of the family preparing for the trip.

Perkins was traveling with children aged 17 years to 15 months. She told CNN that when the flight was cancelled, they went to baggage claim to get the luggage along with the car seats.

“We went to baggage claim to retrieve our luggage and car seats, waited over an hour with six children in tears only to be told that… bags and car seats must continue to their destination in Orlando.”

Perkins said her husband was on a phone call with Southwest Airlines for nearly 10 hours to get reimbursed for his flights and file a claim about his luggage. She added that they were told their luggage was at the Las Vegas airport.

“We went back to the airport to pick it up and they denied our luggage was still there, we told them it was tracked in Las Vegas then they changed the story and said it was in a secure spot on the tarmac and they can’t take it it because there are too many bags.”

As of Monday afternoon, they still have not been found with their checked luggage.

Perkins said they’re just grateful to be all together for the holidays and to be able to go home to Las Vegas instead of being stuck in another city.

Any relief in sight?

CNN meteorologist Tom Sater details the latest forecast as a deadly winter storm continues to pummel much of the US with brutal winter weather.

It could be next week before everything is completely resolved.

“When there are over 10,000 flight cancellations last week, it takes time for airlines to work and rebook travelers,” Keyes told CNN Travel via email.

“While it depends on the weather forecast (which looks promising for much of the country) and the number of travelers who end up canceling their vacation plans, I expect that by next week things will be back to normal,” Keyes said. said.

And why are so many people having trouble rebooking?

“A complicating factor for people hoping to be re-accommodated is the fact that there are so few seats available this season,” Keyes said.

“This is because Christmas and New Year are one of the most popular times of the year for travel and because the number of flights scheduled for this year is still down by 15-20%, making the challenge even greater for those needing to make a new reservation. .”

buffalo still staggering

Meanwhile, in hard-hit western New York, Buffalo International Airport said in its most recent tweet that it plans to resume passenger flights at 11 am ET on Tuesday.

The temperature at the airport was 19 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 7 Celsius) around 4pm ET, with light snow falling about the hugest amounts the area has ever seen.

And it’s not just the airport affected there. Road travel remained treacherous due to extreme winter conditions.

In Erie County, in western New York state, emergency driving restrictions were lifted in some communities but remained in effect in Buffalo, County Executive Mark Poloncarz said on Monday.

“The city of Buffalo is impassable in most areas, while major thoroughfares may have a lane or two open for emergency traffic, most secondary and side streets are still untouched,” said Poloncarz.

He added that clearing main roads is mainly for the use of lifesaving measures to open areas around hospitals and nursing homes.

A tough last week

A winter storm sweeping across the US has been ill-timed for travelers as it has begun to push Christmas week flight numbers back to pre-pandemic levels.

On Christmas Day, there were 3,178 canceled flights and 6,870 delayed flights, according to FlightAware.

On Christmas Eve, there were a total of 3,487 canceled flights, according to FlightAware.

Friday was the worst day of this streak with 5,934 cancellations, while Thursday had nearly 2,700 cancellations.

This mega-boom of winter weather in the eastern two-thirds of the country is expected to moderate slowly this week.

CNN’s Ross Levitt, Amanda Jackson, Rebekah Reiss, Chris Boyette and Artemis Moshtaghian contributed to this story.