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Southwest says ‘normal’ services to resume on Friday

(CNN) — [BREAKING NEWS UPDATE: 1:24 p.m. ET Thursday]

Southwest Airlines returned to normal on Friday after an eight-day tumultuous meltdown that delayed or stranded hundreds of thousands of passengers and prompted executives to apologize to the passenger public and government officials. I am ready to resume my schedule.

In a statement released on Thursday, Southwest Airlines said it would end the chaos of the New Year’s weekend after another bruising day in which a further 2,300 flights were canceled and government officials called on the airline to explain its shortcomings. I would like to keep it to a minimum.

“We are encouraged by the progress we have made to reorganize our crew, their schedules and fleet,” it said. , we want to return to normal.

The statement came with more remorse from the airline.

“We know that even our deepest apologies to our customers, employees, and everyone affected by this disruption have come 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.”

[PREVIOUSLY REPORTED]

Earlier in the day, the airline’s chief commercial officer, Ryan Green, expressed regret over the service disruption and promised to rebuild customer relationships that hit rock bottom during the busy holiday season.

“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 follow airline CEO Bob Jordan’s earlier apology when U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg scathingly assessed the Southwest’s troubles, calling the situation a complete “meltdown.” issued to

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

“Perfect Storm”

Elaine Chao, who served as Secretary of Transportation during the Trump administration, described the Southwest Airlines failure as an “unbelievable failure.”

She told CNN that it was “a complete storm of everything going on at the company.”

“It will take a very long time,” she added, to rebuild trust with consumers.

Among those affected was St. Louis bride-to-be Katie DeMeko, whose wedding had to be postponed after her southwest flight to Belize was canceled at the last minute.

“We went to the airport. The flight was on time. As we were getting ready to board, the captain came out and gave a speech and basically said the flight was cancelled,” she said. told CNN.

“At that point, I had a lot of family and it was a shock. I tried to rebook, but nothing.”

Bride-to-be Katie Demko speaks to CNN’s Kaitlan Collins about missing her wedding in Belize after Southwest Airlines canceled thousands of flights.

She said Southwest Airlines offered to rebook her for a flight on January 2nd, which would have been three days late. Her wedding has now been postponed, but she and her family and friends have lost money on food and accommodation.

“We’re just devastated,” she said.

According to flight-tracking website FlightAware, Thursday saw a similar trend, with 2,362 out of a total of 2,476 flights from the southwest being canceled.

Only 39 Southwest flights have been canceled on Friday so far, according to FlightAware stats, which seems to support Southwest’s claim that normal service will more or less resume on Friday.

The airline has also started notifying customers that it plans to fly “full schedule” on Friday after more than a week of major flight disruptions.

An email to passengers scheduled to fly southwest on Friday said:

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

Union officials representing Southwestern pilots said their flight schedules are expected 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 the union understands that airlines are planning “almost full schedules 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.

As of 8 a.m. ET Thursday, Southwest Airlines has canceled only 39 flights on Friday, according to FlightAware.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

Buttigieg says he spoke directly with Southwest CEO Bob 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.”

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

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.”

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