Last week’s winter weather travel mess is lingering like a hangover into this week — and the headaches are migraine-proportioned for Southwest Airlines and its frustrated passengers on Monday.
More than 3,200 flights within, into or out of the US had already been canceled by 2:30 p.m. ET Monday, according to flight tracking website FlightAware, while almost 5,000 flights had been delayed.
But Southwest accounts for a whopping share of those.
The Dallas-based airline has canceled more than half of its flights, more than 2,300 total flights, as 2:30 p.m. ET Monday, according to FlightAware.
On social media, customers are complaining about long lines to speak with representatives, problems with lost bags and excessive wait times or busy signals on the airline’s customer service telephone lines.
The airline announced that if passengers do not have a rebooked ticket yet, there are no Southwest flights being rebooked until after Dec. 31.
Apologetic officials with Southwest announced that the airline is providing hotels for stranded travelers. Airport officials said they will accommodate bussing services to hotels.
“We’re trying to work the lines as quickly as possible to offer folks the options to get them to a hotel,” Jay McVay with Southwest Airlines said. “We’re very thankful that we’ve had some incredible cooperation with the city of Houston to assist us with hotels and shuttles just to try to get our customers accommodated as quickly as possible.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation said it’s concerned by Southwest’s “unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays” after thousands of reports of lack of prompt customer service. The department said it will examine whether cancellations were controllable during weather conditions.
“The main focus right now is to try to take care of our customers as quickly as we can and get them out of this line and with their loved ones or somewhere where they can get some rest,” McVay said. “With those cancellations and as a result we end up with flight crews and airplanes that are out of place and not in the cities that they need to be in to continue to run our operations so that is ultimately exactly how we ended up where we are.”
‘Disruptions across our network’
In a statement to CNN, Southwest Airlines said it is “experiencing disruptions across our network as a result of (the winter storm’s) lingering effects on the totality of our operation.”
Some of the airports seeing the biggest issue are Denver, Las Vegas, Chicago Midway, Baltimore/Washington, and Dallas Love Field where Southwest operates.
Calls to Southwest’s customer service attempted Monday afternoon by CNN did not go through, so customers couldn’t even get in the queue to speak to a representative. Southwest told CNN it is “fully staffed to answer calls.”
The airline also says, “those whose flights have been canceled may request a full refund or receive a flight credit, which does not expire.”
Meanwhile, in hard-hit western New York, Buffalo International Airport said in its most recent tweet that it plans to resume passenger flights at 11 a.m. ET Tuesday.
The temperature at the airport was 18 degrees Fahrenheit around 2 p.m. ET, with light snow falling on top of the huge amounts the area has already seen.
Read Southwest’s updated statement below:
“With consecutive days of extreme winter weather across our network behind us, continuing challenges are impacting our Customers and Employees in a significant way that is unacceptable. And our heartfelt apologies for this are just beginning.
We’re working with Safety at the forefront to urgently address wide-scale disruption by rebalancing the airline and repositioning Crews and our fleet ultimately to best serve all who plan to travel with us. We were fully staffed and prepared for the approaching holiday weekend when the severe weather swept across the continent, where Southwest is the largest carrier in 23 of the top 25 travel markets in the U.S. This forced daily changes to our flight schedule at a volume and magnitude that still has the tools our teams use to recover the airline operating at capacity. This safety-first work is intentional, ongoing, and necessary to return to normal reliability, one that minimizes last-minute inconveniences. We anticipate additional changes with an already reduced level of flights as we approach the coming New Year holiday travel period. And we’re working to reach to Customers whose travel plans will change with specific information and their available options. Our Employees and Crews scheduled to work this holiday season are showing up in every single way. We are beyond grateful for that. Our shared goal is to take care of every single Customer with the Hospitality and Heart for which we’re known. On the other side of this, we’ll work to make things right for those we’ve let down, including our Employees.With no concern higher than ultimate Safety, the People of Southwest share a goal to take care of each and every Customer. We recognize falling short and sincerely apologize.”
Southwest Airlines ruins Christmas for flight attendants
Amid the chaos at the airports, in the air flight attendants are also dealing with the ripple effect after thousands of flights were canceled.
The Transport Workers Union of America argues that it has demanded modernization for years, saying the lack of commitment to technology upgrades has cost thousands of employees and customers precious holiday time.
“The way Southwest Airlines has treated its flight crews can only be termed ‘despicable,'” Lyn Montgomery, president of TWU Local 556, said. “We know the demands of holiday travel. We know winter storms. And believe me, we know about stepping up and putting in long work hours when we are called to do so; we are flight attendants. But at this point, the many years of failure by management, despite many unions’ demands to modernize, has left flight attendants fatigued, stranded, hungry and cold – on Christmas! This impacts lives and threatens safety for all.”
In a statement to ABC13, TWU said it’s demanded that Southwest Airlines seek technological solutions to match its rapidly expanding operation.
Montgomery says the lack of technology has left the airline relying on manual solutions and personal phone calls, leaving flight attendants on hold with Southwest Airlines for up to 17 hours at a time simply to be released to go home after their trip, or while attempting to secure a hotel room or know where their next trip will be.
“While we are stranded, on hold with scheduling, trying to understand where and how we are going to sleep that night, we are also often answering passengers’ questions and hearing their desperate concerns as they, too, are also left wondering what will happen to them,” Montgomery added. “We are tired of saying ‘I’m sorry,’ to our customers when we are faced with the same obstacles. For our customers and our crews, Southwest Airlines has to Make It Right!”
Bad Road Conditions
Road travel remained treacherous in parts of the US because of extreme wintry conditions.
In New York state’s western Erie County, emergency restrictions on driving were lifted in some communities but remained in place in Buffalo, County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Monday.
“The City of Buffalo is impassable in most areas, while mains may have a lane open for emergency traffic or two, most secondaries as well as side streets have not been touched yet,” Poloncarz said.
He adding that the cleared main roads are primarily for the use of life-saving measures to open up areas around hospitals and nursing homes.
A Rough Past Week
A winter storm that swept across the US was ill-timed for travelers who had started pushing Christmas week flying numbers back toward pre-pandemic levels.
On Christmas Day, there were 3,178 flights canceled and 6,870 flight delayed, according to FlightAware.
On Christmas Eve, there were a total of 3,487 flights canceled, according to FlightAware.
Friday was the worst day of this streak with 5,934 cancellations, while Thursday saw almost 2,700 cancellations.
This mega blast of winter weather across the eastern two-thirds of the nation is forecast to slowly moderate this week.
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