Relief is still days away for passengers booked with Southwest Airlines this week as the ailing airline continues to grapple with what US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has described as a complete systemic collapse.
Of the 2,714 cancellations already made for Wednesday flights within, into or out of the United States as of 3:15 a.m. ET, 2,504 are being performed by Southwest, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware. Meanwhile, the website shows that the airline has already canceled another 2,356 flights for Thursday.
The airports hardest hit by Wednesday’s cancellations are Denver International, followed by Chicago Midway International, Baltimore/Washington International, Dallas Love Field, Nashville International, Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas and Phoenix Sky Harbor International.
Buttigieg said he spoke directly to Southwest CEO Bob Jordan on Tuesday about the thousands of flights canceled this week, with no immediate indication of when passengers will be able to rebook.
“Their system has really completely collapsed,” Buttigieg told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday.
“I have made it clear that our department will hold them accountable for their responsibilities to customers, both to get them through this situation and to ensure it cannot happen again.”
Southwest has canceled about two-thirds of its flights. See how travelers are doing
More than 3,200 flights within, to or from the United States were canceled on Tuesday, according to FlightAware.
Of those canceled flights, the Southwest accounted for about 2,693 – an impressive 84% of all canceled flights in the United States.
Long lines of travelers trying to rebook or make connections were observed Tuesday at the Southwest ticket counters at several U.S. airports, while huge piles of unclaimed bags continued to grow as passengers struggled to pick up their luggage at airports such as Midway International in Chicago, Harry Reid in Las, Reclaim Vegas and William P. Hobby Airport in Houston.
Passenger Trisha Jones told CNN at the Atlanta airport that she and her partner had been traveling for five days trying to get home to Wichita, Kansas, after disembarking from a cruise in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
After her flight was canceled, she stayed with relatives and was then diverted to Atlanta to catch a connecting flight.
“We were lucky because we were in Fort Lauderdale — my family lives in the Tampa Bay area, so we were able to rent a car to visit my family over Christmas,” Jones said. “We’ve seen a lot of families sleeping on the floor and it just breaks my heart.”
Southwest blamed several factors for the travel disaster, including winter storm delays, aggressive flight planning, and aging infrastructure.
“As far as I can tell, Southwest can’t even determine where their own crews are, let alone their own passengers, let alone their luggage,” Buttigieg said, adding that he’s also spoken to leaders of the airline’s unions, representing flight attendants and pilots.
The secretary said he told CEO Jordan he expects Southwest to be proactive in offering refunds and reimbursements to affected passengers without them having to ask.
“I have conveyed to the CEO our expectation that they will do whatever they can to take care of the passengers and address this,” he said.
Buttigieg told CNN the Department of Transportation is prepared to issue fines against Southwest if there is evidence the company has failed to meet its legal obligations, but added that the Department will investigate the airline’s ongoing customer service issues more closely.
“While every other part of the aviation system is moving towards recovery and improvement every day, this airline is actually moving in the opposite direction,” Buttigieg said.
“They have a company here that has a lot to clean up,” he said.
Jordan apologized to passengers and staff in one video statement released by the company on Tuesday evening.
“We are doing everything we can to get back to normal operations and please also hear that I am truly sorry,” Jordan said.
While Jordan acknowledged problems with the company’s response, the statement indicated that he did not anticipate massive changes in Southwest’s procedures in response to the mass cancellations.
“The tools we use to recover from disruptions serve us well 99% of the time, but of course we need to double down on our existing plans to upgrade systems for these extreme circumstances so we never face it again become what is happening. said Jordan.
“We are optimistic to be back on track before next week.”
Flight delayed or cancelled? Travel expert shares her tips
Southwest has warned that this week’s cancellations and delays are likely to continue for a few more days.
So what should customers do?
“First things first, travelers who are still waiting for Southwest and have somewhere to go should try to book a flight on another airline as soon as possible…really now,” said Kyle Potter, editor-in-chief at the travel advice website frugal traveler, in an email to CNN Travel late Tuesday afternoon.
“Every airline in the country is overcrowded right now, so your chances of finding a seat at all – let alone at a halfway decent price – are getting smaller by the hour,” Potter said.
“Travellers who are in the midst of things should be sure to keep all their receipts: other flights, rental car, hotel nights, meals, everything,” Potter said.
If you’ve been let down and your efforts to reach a customer service representative are getting nowhere, is the founder of Scott’s cheap flights suggests trying an international number.
“The main US airline hotline will be overloaded with rebooking other passengers. To quickly reach an agent, call any of the airline’s dozens of international offices,” said Scott Keyes.
“Agents can process your reservation just like US employees, but there’s virtually no waiting to get through.”
click here to get international numbers previously released by Southwest.
Video: Canceled flight leads to viral road trip
– Source: CNN
Southwest spokesman Jay McVay said Monday night in a news conference at Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport the airline will do whatever it takes to address the challenges passengers have been facing, including “hotels, driver assistance, vans … rental cars.” to try and make. Make sure these people get home as soon as possible.”
He promised to look after all customers, including those who have already left the airport or have rebooked themselves.
“If you’ve already left, take care of yourself, do what you have to do for your family, keep your receipts,” McVay shared. “We’ll make sure they’re taken care of, there’s no question.”
Speaking to CNN, Southwest Airlines Pilots Association Vice President Capt. Mike Santoro said the problems in the Southwest were the worst disruptions he had experienced in 16 years with the airline.
He described last week’s storm as a catalyst that helped spark major technical problems.
“What went wrong is that our IT infrastructure for scheduling software is severely outdated,” he said. “It cannot handle the number of pilots and flight attendants that we have in the system with our complex route network.
“We don’t have the normal hub that other major airlines have. We fly a point-to-point network that can put our crews in the wrong places without planes.”
He added: “It’s frustrating for the pilots, the flight attendants and most importantly our passengers. We are tired of apologizing for Southwest, the airline pilots, our hearts go out to all passengers, they really do.”