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Southwest cancellations continue as airline deals with ‘meltdown’ fallout

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(CNN) — As Southwest Airlines took off the plane and scrambled to get passengers home for Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg took a tough line with the company.

He calls this situation a complete system “meltdown.”

“We have a company here that has a lot of work to do,” he said.

The company had previously warned it could take days to clear the backlog of stranded people and lost luggage, but one of the unions said the situation could improve by Friday. provided a ray of hope.

But 2,349 Southwest flights have already been canceled, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware, and Thursday promises to be about the same. is occurring. As of 1:40 a.m. ET, only 2,410 total US flights were canceled on Thursday.

In addition, there is increasing scrutiny as to what led to this meltdown, and operations at Denver International Airport are under a microscope.

“Operational Emergency” in Denver

Southwest Airlines’ decision to enact “operational emergency” staffing procedures at Denver’s airport after a major winter storm raged last week contributed to the airline’s nationwide operational crisis. This suggests a tangle of factors that

Denver Airport led the U.S. in cancellations Wednesday and has been one of the most troubled locations in the U.S. for several days.

Southwest’s emergency staffing procedures in Denver included requesting a note from a doctor to confirm illness after an employee complained, a Southwest spokeswoman said Wednesday. told CNN.

A spokesperson could not confirm if the staffing policy will remain in place or when the special rules will end.

The Washington Post cited a Dec. 21 Southwestern memo related to the operational emergency, in which the airline’s vice president of ground operations said employees at the Denver-based ramp, including the sick, It declared the condition imposed due to an “unusual number of absences” by employees. Afternoon and evening shift phone and personal days.

The company said the operational emergency, which occurred only in Denver, is distinct from the problem it says is responsible for a nationwide spate of cancellations.

Denver International Airport conducted post-mortem studies with the airport’s three major airlines (Frontier, Southwest and United) and announced plans to learn from the disruption while the situation was still fresh.

A ray of hope?

Travelers view their luggage in the baggage claim area inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport on Wednesday.

Jeff Roberson/AP

Meanwhile, union officials representing pilots in the Southwest said they expect flight schedules to return to near-normal by the end of the week.

Mike Santoro, vice president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday that he’s heard the airline is planning a “nearly full schedule on Friday.”

“As you know, the weather was a big event that caused it, but the lack of IT infrastructure scheduling is no excuse for the problem,” says Santoro.

Union officials said the Southwest’s scheduling infrastructure is generally working well, but added that this wasn’t the first time they’d seen a meltdown causing delays. , it seems to crash all the time,” Santoro says.

As of 1:40 a.m. ET on Thursday, Southwest Airlines had canceled only 39 flights on Friday, according to FlightAware.

Grim Southwest stats this week

Travelers tag their bags at Orlando International Airport on December 28, 2022.

Travelers tag their bags at Orlando International Airport on December 28, 2022.

Paul Hennessy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

According to FlightAware, there were 2,912 cancellations to and from the US on Wednesday, of which about 2,510 were operated by Southwest Airlines. This represents 86% of all flights canceled in the US.

In total, Southwest Airlines has canceled about 15,700 flights since winter weather began disrupting air travel on December 22nd.

The Southwest has struggled to untangle its tangled threads The number of cancellations that started with winter storms. Union leaders say software and manual processes are being used to redeploy flight crew members whose working hours are limited for safety reasons.

Southwest spokesperson Chris Perry told CNN that the airline has not experienced problems with employees not showing up.

“We haven’t had a staffing problem at any station in our operations, and we commend them for the valiant work they are doing,” Perry said.

This is now a southwestern problem

Other US airlines flying in the same weather conditions have since recovered from the disruption caused by the storm.

In fact, American Airlines and United Airlines have capped fares on some routes operated by Southwest Airlines to make flights more accessible for stranded passengers.

Southwest Airlines does not have interline agreements with other airlines that allow agents to rebook passengers on another airline, and travelers are responsible for considering other options.

Southwest Airlines plans to fly a reduced schedule over the next few days due to changes in crew and plane deployments, airline CEO Bob Jordan said late Tuesday when the airline said it would He said it in a video he released.

“We are optimistic that we will be on track by next week,” he said before the pilots’ union announcement.

Buttigieg says he spoke directly with Jordan on Tuesday about the thousands of flights that have been canceled this week.

“Their system has completely collapsed,” Buttigieg told Blitzer. “Our department has made it clear that we will hold them accountable for their responsibilities to customers in order to work through this situation and ensure it does not happen again.”

Those responsibilities include providing meal tickets and hotel accommodations to passengers whose flights were interrupted “as a result of the decisions and actions of Southwest Airlines,” a Department of Transportation (DOT) spokeswoman said. Stated.

U.S. airlines must also offer cash refunds to passengers whose flights have been canceled and who choose not to travel, the DOT said.

Buttigieg told CNN that the Department of Transportation was prepared to fine Southwest Airlines if there was evidence that the company failed to meet its legal obligations. It added that it was looking into the customer service issue that had occurred.

A secretary told Jordan that he expects Southwest to proactively provide refunds and cost reimbursements without asking affected passengers.

What you should do

One travel expert warns to proceed with caution when it comes to refunds.

“Southwest Airlines has said it will ‘honor reasonable requests for reimbursement of meals, hotels and alternative transportation,'” said Phil Dengler, co-founder of travel advice site The Vacationer. To do.

“Southwest Airlines is vague about how much they’ll compensate, but I’d like to avoid expensive hotels and restaurants. Use Google Hotels to find hotels near airports where you’re stuck.”

It also warns about piling up large tabs.

“Do a few Google searches, like ‘free activities near me’. I don’t think Southwest will reimburse tours or other paid activities, so I wouldn’t book an expensive tour that you can’t afford.”

Southwest CEO apologizes in video

Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan says travel is stuck as the beleaguered airline continues to grapple with what U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg called a complete system “meltdown.” issued an apology to In total, Southwest Airlines has canceled more than 15,700 flights since winter weather began disrupting air travel on December 22nd.

Jordan apologized to passengers and employees in a video released Tuesday night.

Jordan said, “We are doing everything we can to return to normal operations, but please also hear that we are truly sorry.

He said the airline had decided to “significantly reduce flights to catch up” with a large number of planes and crews “losing their positions” in dozens of cities.

Jordan admitted he had issues with the company’s response, but the statement suggested he didn’t foresee major changes to Southwest’s operational plans in response to the mass cancellations.

“The tools you use to recover from chaos will help you 99% of the time, but to avoid facing what’s happening now again, you need to revoke your existing plans to upgrade your systems for these extreme situations. It’s clear that we need to double down,” Jordan said.

What hit Southwest’s reputation?

“It will take a long time for Southwest Airlines to regain public trust,” said Dengler of The Vacationer.

“While extreme weather has affected other airlines, Southwest Airlines experienced a veritable meltdown at the worst possible time. Many Americans either wait it out or go home. You have to decide if you’re going to potentially spend thousands of dollars on the Southwest.”

He said, “In some households, one or more members had to return to work earlier this week, so waiting wasn’t even an option. Unfortunately, that’s difficult for many families. Yes, and lost time is often significant.”

“Most Americans only fly once a year and want a problem-free experience. Many pause when booking their next flight, with Southwest Airlines being the cheapest I think it’s an option.”

CNN’s Gregory Wallace, Andy Rose, Andi Babineau, Adrienne Broaddus, Dave Alsap, Nick Valencia, David Goldman, Leslie Perrot, Carlos Suarez, and Ross Levitt contributed to this article.

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