The winter storm that disrupted thousands of travel plans over the weekend created an epic backlog of flight cancellations for Southwest Airlines, leaving thousands of families stranded, some waiting days to get home.
Two-thirds of Southwest flights were canceled Monday afternoon, according to the flight tracking website FlightAware — more than any other airline. With some 2,700 Southwest flights canceled, another 700 were delayed Monday, FlightAware found.
On Monday afternoon, the board of directors at Dallas Love Field, the airline’s main hub, showed that every arrival had been canceled, according to reporter Kelly Laco.
The airline canceled more than 1,600 flights on Sunday and 1,300 each day last week Thursday and Friday.
Traveler Michael Bauzon and his family had planned to leave Orlando International Airport on Friday to return home to Indianapolis in time for Christmas on Sunday. Instead, the four spent the vacation at a hotel after their flight was canceled, Bauzon told CBS affiliate WKMG, and were back at the airport on Monday – where they continued to wait.
“This morning we got here at 4:30 a.m. for a 7:05 a.m. flight, we looked at it, and oh, it had just been cancelled,” he said, pointing to a snaking line in front of the service counter at the South West. “It’s a four to five hour queue… before they can get us on a flight – if they can get us on a flight,” he said.
Widespread storm, outdated technology
In a Monday statement that opened with a “sincere apology,” Southwest said its geography made it “particularly” vulnerable to the storm, with half of the airports it flies to affected by winter conditions.
“We were full and prepared for the approaching holiday weekend when severe weather swept through the continent, where Southwest is the largest carrier in 23 of the top 25 travel markets in the United States. This forced changes daily to our flight schedule at a volume and scale that still has the tools our teams use to recover the airline operating at full capacity,” the statement said.
“We expect further changes with an already reduced level of flights as we approach the next New Year holiday travel period,” he noted.
The company also blames a lack of technology. “Part of what we’re suffering from is a lack of tools. We’ve talked a lot about modernizing the operation and the need to do that,” CEO Bob Jordan said in an internal message Sunday reported by multiple outlets. . outlets and the flight attendants’ union.
Blocked telephone lines, systems
Southwest directed customers away from blocked phone lines, noting that it was experiencing “system problems” in a context of strong demand.
Spokesman Chris Perry said the airline’s online reservation and check-in systems were still working, but were also blocked due to “abnormally high” traffic volumes on their site. “We are welcoming back as many customers as possible based on available space,” he told CBS News.
While Southwest blamed technology issues, the flight attendants’ union, Transit Workers Union 556, accused the airline of contributing to the problem by underinvesting in technology for years.
“Lack of technology has left the airline to rely on manual solutions and personal phone calls, leaving flight attendants on hold with Southwest Airlines for up to 5 p.m. at a time just to be released to return home after their trip, or while trying to secure a hotel room or find out where their next trip will be,” the union said in a statement. “While reroutings and reschedulings are considered part of the job in the airline industry, the massive scale of failure in recent days indicates a lack of accountability for many years to invest and implement technology that could help solve many of the problems plaguing flight attendants and passengers alike.”
The union and the airline have been in contract negotiations for four years.
— With reporting by Zel Elvi and Kathryn Krupnik.