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Southwest Airlines: Cancellations continue; relief is days away

(CNN) — For passengers booked on Southwest Airlines this week, the much-needed conclusion of the airline’s troubles is still languishing days away.

As the beleaguered airline continues to sort out stranded passengers, uncollected baggage and misplaced planes, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has held airlines accountable.

He calls this situation a complete system “meltdown.” Also, the airline’s decision to enact an “operational emergency” staffing procedure at Denver’s airport last week as a major winter storm raged was a contributing factor to the airline’s operational crisis. suggests entanglement.

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

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

The Washington Post cites a Southwest memo related to the business emergency dated Dec. 21. In it, the airline’s vice president of ground operations declared the condition due to an “unusually high number of absences” from Denver-based Ramp employees. Personal days for afternoon and evening shifts.

The operational emergency, which occurred only in Denver, is distinct from the issue the company says is responsible for the chain of cancellations, according to the company.

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.

The streak of cancellations continued through Wednesday afternoon.

Latest Flight Cancellation Statistics

According to flight tracking website FlightAware, as of 3:20 p.m. ET, about 2,509 of the 2,860 cancellations already recorded for Wednesday’s flights to and from the United States were canceled by Southwest Airlines. is in service. That’s 88% of all flights canceled in the US. All other airlines combined account for the remaining 12%.

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

Airlines are struggling to recover from cancellations that began with winter storms. and manual processes are used.

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

“We haven’t had any staffing issues at any station in our operations, and we applaud the brave work people 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.

Denver International Airport leads the way in cancellations on Wednesday, with significant cancellations at Chicago Midway, Dallas Love Field, Las Vegas Harry Reed, and Nashville International Airport.

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.

“I’m optimistic that we’ll be back on track by next week,” he said.

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 CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday.

“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 spokeswoman said on Tuesday. 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.

Tuesday overview

CNN’s Carlos Suarez reports from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. At this airport, travelers are braving long lines and flight cancellations after a massive winter storm hits the United States.

According to FlightAware, there were 3,211 flights inside and outside the United States that were canceled on Tuesday.

Of the canceled flights, Southwest Airlines accounted for 2,694, or 84% of all canceled flights in the US.

Long queues of travelers trying to rebook or connect were witnessed at Southwest ticket counters at multiple U.S. airports on Tuesday, while passengers at airports including Chicago’s Midway International Airport, Harry Reed, A huge pile of unclaimed bags kept growing as I struggled to get my stuff back.William P. Hobby Airport in Las Vegas and Houston

Passenger Trisha Jones told CNN at the Atlanta airport that she and her partner had been traveling for five days trying to return to Wichita, Kansas after getting off a cruise in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

After her flight was canceled, she stayed at a relative’s house, then rerouted 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 them over Christmas,” Jones said. said. “I’ve seen so many families sleeping on the floor and it breaks my heart.”

Buttigieg: ‘We have a lot to do’

Hundreds of bags remain unclaimed at Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) on December 28th.

Jim Law Scalzo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Southwest Airlines attributed the travel disaster to several factors, including winter storm delays, aggressive flight schedules and outdated infrastructure.

“As far as I know, Southwest Airlines has not been able to locate the passengers, baggage, or even the crew.”

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

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.

“Every other part of the aviation system is recovering and improving day by day, but it’s actually going in the opposite direction with this airline,” Buttigieg said.

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

Southwest CEO apologizes in video

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.

Is there anything the passenger can do?

Katie Nastro, Scott’s cheap flights spokesperson, tells us what to do if your flight is delayed or cancelled.

Southwest warns that this week’s cancellations and delays are expected to continue for several more days.

So what should the customer do?

“First and foremost, travelers who are still stuck in the Southwest and need to go somewhere should book a flight with another airline as soon as possible…now really,” travel advice said. Editor-in-Chief Kyle Potter said CNN Travel received an email late Tuesday afternoon from the website Thrifty Traveler.

“Right now, every airline in the country is so crowded that the chances of finding a seat, even at half the price, are getting smaller by the hour,” said Potter.

“Travelers in this situation should make sure to keep receipts for all other flights, rental cars, hotel stays, meals, etc.,” Potter said.

If you’re frustrated and left out and your efforts to contact a customer service agent are unsuccessful, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights suggests trying an international phone number.

“Primary hotlines for U.S. airlines will be congested with rebooking other passengers. To reach an agent immediately, call any of the airline’s dozens of international offices. said Scott Keyes. These agents can handle US-based reservations, Keyes said.

To get the international numbers previously posted by Southwest, click here.

Southwest: “Keep your receipt”

After their flight was cancelled, 13 strangers decided to rent a van and drive from Orlando to Knoxville, Tennessee.

Southwest Airlines spokesperson Jay McVay said at a press conference Monday night at Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport that the airline will do everything possible to rectify the challenges passengers have experienced. rice field. Please help these people get home as soon as possible. “

He promised to accommodate all customers, including those who have already left the airport or who have made separate arrangements themselves.

“If you’ve already left home, take care of yourself, do what’s necessary for your family, and keep your receipts,” McVay said. It doesn’t matter.”

What’s Wrong From a Pilot’s Perspective

Passengers search for their luggage at Hollywood Burbank Airport in California on Tuesday.

Passengers search for their luggage at Hollywood Burbank Airport in California on Tuesday.

Robin Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Capt. Mike Santoro, vice president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, told CNN on Tuesday.

He explained that last week’s storm was the catalyst that triggered the major technical issues.

“What hasn’t worked is that our IT infrastructure for scheduling software is significantly outdated,” he said. “Complex route networks cannot handle the number of pilots and flight attendants in the system.

“We don’t have a regular hub like other big airlines do. We operate a point-to-point network, so crew can be misplaced even without planes.”

“It is frustrating for pilots, flight attendants and especially our passengers. They really do.”

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.