Stranded Southwest fliers face days of waiting as anger, scrutiny over meltdown grow

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Travelers line up inside the Southwest Airlines Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. (Eugene Garcia/Associated Press)

Travelers stranded in the Southwest Airlines meltdown have received calls from Congress and federal regulators about how the fiasco happened as the airline struggled to rebuild a system battered by the holiday season storm. Faced with anger and scrutiny, they face days of waiting.

Thousands were stranded Tuesday, many with little other option, and the Southwest said new flights may not be available for several days.

According to flight-tracking website FlightAware, airlines canceled more than 2,800 flights Tuesday morning, the majority (2,526) of them being Southwest Airlines.

Hundreds of flights were delayed or canceled in California through the weekend, making up a large portion of the Southwest’s schedule.

Passengers sat on the shoulder of Los Angeles International Airport, dozens of flyers lined up at rental car counters at Hollywood Burbank Airport, and nearly 100 more waited inside and outside the facility.

Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan told The Wall Street Journal that the airline will operate at about a third of its normal rate to reorganize and get schedules back on track. said he was planning to

“This is the biggest event I have ever seen,” he said.

All flights were listed as unavailable on the company’s website Tuesday morning. Southwest Airlines spokesperson Chris Perry said in an email that inventory for booking trips is “very low,” but flights are still operating.

Andy Robinson was queuing for a hotel voucher at the Southwest Terminal after his flight home to Denver was cancelled. Robinson was staying in his L.A. with family on Christmas Day to watch his Broncos in Denver play the Rams at his SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, but managed to fly home Thursday. on time, but disrupted by cancellations and other delays.

“I try to look positive. I’m in California,” Robinson said. A relative of Robinson’s suggested driving to Denver. “I’m wearing flip-flops.

Elsewhere in Southern California, 18 outbound Southwest flights, or two-thirds of their services, were canceled at Hollywood Burbank Airport on Tuesday, according to mobile flight tracker Flightview. At John Wayne Airport, 51 southwestbound flights were canceled Tuesday morning, and seven were delayed. Meanwhile, San Diego saw the biggest disruption, with 89 southwest flights canceled and 28 delayed.

Despite paying $60 for early check-in, Roger and Jane Trousdale were among the hundreds of passengers who visited Burbank on Tuesday.

But a couple from Estes Park, Colorado, who were in town to visit their son for the holidays, didn’t pack enough medicine to last them a week. , they said, noting that renting a car or taking a bus was not an option.

“Not ideal,” said 77-year-old Roger Truesdale.

A flight board shows canceled flights at the Southwest Airlines terminal at LAX.

A flight board shows canceled flights at the Southwest Airlines terminal at LAX. (Eugene Garcia/Associated Press)

Southwest Airlines blamed the cancellation on a devastating winter storm that hit the northern half of the country over the holiday weekend, saying, “Our sincere apologies for this are just the beginning. We understand and sincerely apologize.”

But U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said the weather wasn’t the only factor that caused the Southwest Airlines meltdown.

“Everyone understands that the weather cannot be controlled, but this clearly crosses the line from uncontrollable weather conditions to being the direct responsibility of airlines,” he told reporters. Told.

Senate Commerce Committee members Ed Markey (D, Massachusetts) and Richard Blumenthal (D, Connecticut) argue that Southwest Airlines flight cancellations were caused by recent winter storms. said it can’t be done. Refunds to travelers.

Compensation should include not only rebooked flights, refunds, hotels, meals and transportation, but also “substantial financial compensation for interruptions to vacation plans,” the two senators said in a statement. said in

The Southwest Airlines meltdown reached the Oval Office, and President Biden tweeted that the airline would be held accountable, directing damaged travelers to the Department of Transportation website to claim compensation. I was asked to decide if I was eligible.

Biden tweeted: “Our administration is trying to hold airlines accountable.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is also concerned about the “unacceptable” cancellation rate and said it would investigate whether the cancellations are controllable.

Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat, said Tuesday that the committee will investigate the cause of the disruption and its impact on consumers.

In a statement, Cantwell said, “The weather has not been the only problem for Southwest Airlines in recent days. Many airlines are unable to properly communicate with consumers when flights are canceled. It deserves strong protections, including a well-established consumer refund rule.”

After driving five hours from Oakland to Los Angeles on Monday after her flight was canceled, Kate Shelter waited in line for hours at LAX’s Southwest Terminal on Tuesday morning to get a refund and retrieve her family’s luggage. I was. Her luggage flew to Los Angeles, even though she and her children (age 9 and her 12) didn’t get on the plane.

However, Schelter objected to the refund. Southwest Airlines ticket agents said they could not help Schelter and offered a travel ticket instead. “I’m going to move my vacation forward now and will be waiting hours on the phone with customer service trying to fix this.

ferocious and weary traveler flooded southwest on Twitter, including reports of waiting in long lines Spread outside the airport terminal, missing luggage it in some cases traveled despite the flight being canceled, or Stacked unclaimed for days, waiting by customer service phone hours disconnected many timesI’m trying to navigate a glitchy website.

some passengers said they did not receive Instead of receiving emails or text messages about flight status, I learned through company app notifications, Flight Aware, or notifications from family and friends.

Maria Valenciano Ramos and husband Jeronima Ramos Jr. wanted to see their daughter in Nashville this week, but their Southwest Airlines flight was canceled Monday. but the rebooked flight was cancelled.

They drove frantically to the airport’s southwest terminal on Tuesday morning and eventually rebooked their trip for January 1, the earliest available flight with no set return date. did. Jeronima Ramos Jr. said other airlines operating similar routes were charging up to $1,600 more per ticket.

Valenciano Ramos said: “This changed the whole schedule, the whole holiday.

Newly elected LA County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath was left stranded in Las Vegas after her Southwest flight back to Los Angeles was cancelled. she said on twitter Monday evening.

“because @Southwest Airlines Your only chance to get home is to spend over $400 each way on another airline to arrive [Tuesday] PM (& vet appt & cancel work mtgs). united nations. Authentic. who can afford this? Not working families or young people who go home once a year,” Horvath tweeted.

Many also questioned the airline’s statement that the weather was to blame. indicate Other airlines operate less disrupted and that part of the problem may be staffing.

The Dallas-based airline says it is “adequately staffed and ready” for the holiday weekend, but due to “operational conditions” caused by severe weather that has hit much of the country, We’ve been forced to make daily changes to our flight schedules, and we still have the tools our team uses to get the airline back at capacity.”

The paralyzing winter storms have hit two of the Southwest’s largest hubs, Chicago and Denver, particularly hard.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said Monday afternoon,Worried about unacceptable rates in the Southwest Reports of cancellations and delays, and lack of prompt customer service.

“The Department will investigate whether the cancellation was controllable and whether Southwest is complying with its customer service plan,” the agency said in a tweet.

Times staff writers Sarah Wyer and Courtney Subramanian contributed to this report.

This story was originally published in the Los Angeles Times.

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