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 hangover this week — and the headaches are the size of a migraine for Southwest Airlines and its frustrated passengers on Monday.

Nearly 3,600 flights in, in or out of the US had already been canceled as of 3:30 pm ET on Monday, according to flight tracking website FlightAware, while nearly 5,400 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 half of its flights — about 2,650 flights in total — as of 3:30 p.m. Monday, according to FlightAware. It canceled about 300 flights in the half-hour period on Monday afternoon.

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.

CNN’s Carlos Suarez spoke to frustrated passengers queuing at the Southwest counter at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport. He is reporting that around 150 customers are waiting in a long line to rebook, with the line meandering behind the counter.

‘Outages in our network’

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.


In a statement to CNN, 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 most problematic airports are Denver, Las Vegas, Chicago Midway, Baltimore/Washington and Dallas Love Field, where Southwest operates.

Calls to Southwest customer service Monday afternoon by CNN 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.”

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) at around 3 pm ET, with light snow falling on top of the huge amounts the area has seen.

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.”

Bad road conditions

Road travel remained treacherous in parts of the United States 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.

More developments to come in this breaking news.

Ross Levitt of CNN, Chris Boyette and Artemis Moshtaghian contributed to this story.