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Southwest Airlines has promised a much better Friday. Will it deliver?

(CNN) — Southwest Airlines pledged to resume its normal schedule on Friday after canceling about 15,800 flights amid turmoil that has rocked the company’s core since December 22.

The big question on everyone’s mind: Can Southwest provide service now? The situation will become increasingly clear on Friday morning as normal air traffic increases.

So far, the numbers seem to support Southwest’s promise. As of 1:30 a.m. ET on Friday, only his 39 Southwest flights had been canceled on Friday, according to flight tracking service FlightAware.

When those planes are back in the air and the piles of luggage are reduced, it will certainly be a relief for both the passengers and the company.

A senior U.S. government official wondered, to say the least, how the Southwest got to this point in the aftermath of a massive winter storm that all other major U.S. airlines were able to control days earlier. I am perplexed as to what has happened.

And they demand that the Southwest straighten things out.

What the Southwest said today

In a statement released Thursday, Southwest Airlines said it hoped to minimize disruption over the New Year’s weekend after another bruising day in which an additional 2,362 flights were canceled.

“We are encouraged by the progress we have made to reorganize our crews, their schedules, and our fleet,” it said. We know that even an apology is only so far,” the statement read.

“We have set up a page on Southwest.com/traveldisruption for customers to submit refunds and reimbursement requests for meals, hotels and alternate transportation, and connect customers to baggage.”

But that hasn’t allayed questions about why the airline’s system made things so bad and demanded that it never happen again. The Department of Transportation (DOT) remains firm with Southwest.

Southwest from DOT: go right next to the passenger

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg wrote in a letter to Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan that the airline will reimburse passengers for alternative transportation costs and provide meals, hotels, reimbursement and baggage reconsolidation. He wrote that the authorities would take action against airlines if they did not keep their promises.

Penalties include the ability to impose fines.

“Failure to fulfill this promise to passengers would be an unfair and deceptive practice,” Buttigieg wrote, referring specifically to reimbursement for alternative travel expenses.

“The agency will use its full investigative and enforcement powers to hold Southwest Airlines accountable when it fails to honor its promise to reimburse passengers for costs incurred on alternate transportation. To do.”

These fines can be substantial.

Buttigieg said in an interview with NBC News on Thursday, “The airlines told me they were going to do more than they were asked to do.” If not, we stand to impose fines of tens of thousands of dollars per violation per passenger.”

regret and repair

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

The airline’s chief commercial officer, Ryan Green, has expressed regret over the disruption of service and promised to rebuild the abyssed customer relationship.

“After many plans have changed and the experience has fallen short of your expectations for us, my personal apologies are the first step in getting things right,” Green said in a video released Thursday. I got

“We continue to work to make up for this with you and you will continue to hear about it soon. But for now, we are restoring the level of reliability and customer experience we expect of ourselves. We are focused on doing…our.”

His remarks, which followed an earlier apology from airline CEO Jordan, came as Buttigieg scathingly assessed the Southwest’s troubles, calling the situation a complete “meltdown.”

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

some understanding passengers

Some passengers took all this in stride and expressed sympathy for Southwest.

Several people at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport spoke to CNN’s Nick Valencia on Thursday about their travel experiences in the Southwest this holiday season.

“I mean, it makes sense,” Roderick Hister told CNN. We have taken the brunt of the unfortunate situation in the country,” he said.

When asked what he thought about the lack of lines at the airport’s southwest counters, Hister said: As you may know, efforts are at work to redeem ourselves. “

Winston Williams, standing near Hister, said he would continue to fly with the airline. “I like the Southwest, which means bags are free,” Williams said.

People want to know: what caused it?

Ask any Southwest Airlines employee about the company’s technology. You don’t get many rave reviews.

As Southwest Airlines has grown from a Texas-based low-cost carrier operating three aircraft to one of the largest US airlines, union officials representing Southwest workers say they haven’t kept up with technological change. And they say they’ve been voicing their concerns for years.

“We’ve been blaming them every year since 2015,” Mike Santoro, captain and vice president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, told CNN.

They and the airline explained an internal process that required multiple departments to manually redesign the airline’s schedule. The system works “most of the time,” the airline said in a statement.

If something goes wrong, Southwest software, including the crew scheduling system tools, must do much of the delicate network rebuilding work manually.

defamation

Former Trump administration secretary of transportation Elaine Chao described the Southwest Airlines demise as an “unbelievable failure.”

“It’s been a perfect storm of everything going on at the company,” she told CNN. “It’s going to take a very, very long time to rebuild trust with consumers.”

Phil Dengler, co-founder of travel advice website The Vacationer, agrees.

“It will take a long time for Southwest Airlines to regain public trust. While extreme weather has affected other airlines, Southwest Airlines has suffered a real meltdown at the worst possible time.” ,” he said in an email to CNN Travel on Thursday.

“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 most I think we see it as a cheap option,” Dengler said.

“Low prices are attractive, but this meltdown will cause many travelers to look for other low-cost options.”

What you should do

Dengler warns to proceed with caution regarding these promised refunds.

“Southwest has said it will honor reasonable requests for reimbursement of meals, hotels and alternative transportation,” he said. But I would like to avoid expensive hotels and restaurants.Use Google Hotels to find hotels near the airport where you are 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.”

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