Southwest Airlines: Planes back in the air; apologies keep coming.

(CNN) — The Southwest Airlines boss has promised he will ‘fix’ passengers affected by his business’ disastrous holiday collapse as the carrier delivers on its promise to resume better service on Friday.

“It impacted so many people — so many customers — over the holidays,” CEO Bob Jordan said in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“I’m extremely sorry for this. There’s just no way to apologize enough.”

Jordan said refunds for passengers would cover travelers’ costs, including “rental cars, hotel rooms, meals, booking customers on other airlines – all of these will be part of this that we cover”.

“We offer reimbursements, covering expenses – we’ll walk away with even more after that,” he said. “Beyond safety, there is no higher priority at this point than taking care of our customers, getting them together with their bags, getting refunds processed.”

The airline’s difficulties began with the massive, freezing winter storm, but they persisted — and even worsened — at Southwest as other major airlines recovered. Nearly 15,800 flights to the southwest have been canceled since December 22 in a disruption that has deeply shaken the company.

“It was just an unprecedented storm for everyone – for all airlines,” Jordan said. “The storm had an impact, but we had impacts beyond the storm which obviously had a very different impact on the southwest.”

How were the Friday flights

Jordan said the airline will operate its full schedule of around 3,900 flights on Friday. It works as promised – things have gotten much, much better.

The flight tracking site FlightAware shows that Southwest canceled only 43 flights at 6 p.m. ET, or just 1% of its total flights.

In fact, it’s the best day to fly since the winter storm swept through much of the United States before Christmas. Only 153 total flights were canceled as of 6 p.m. ET on Friday. As for delays, there were almost 4,400 in the United States. Southwest accounted for about 755 of those, or about 19% of its flights.

As for Saturday, there was not a single cancellation in the Southwest posted as of 6 p.m. ET on Friday, and only 23 for the United States.

Southwest has settled for customers to submit claims and reimbursements for meals, hotel and alternative transportation; as well as to connect customers to their luggage.

Baggage after

A Salt Lake police officer and his K-9 partner inspect unclaimed bags at Southwest Airlines baggage claim at Salt Lake City International Airport on Thursday.

Rick Bowmer/AP

While planes are once again in the air, there are still mountains of misplaced luggage scattered across the country.

Take the case of Southwest passenger Lisa Carpenter. She is finally returning home to Phoenix after being stranded in Chicago this week. She said she received a call from Southwest on Friday morning with news that her missing luggage had arrived at its original destination and that FedEx would ship the bags to her home.

“My luggage arrived in Albany, New York, but I didn’t. I don’t know how, but they didn’t have a flight for me. I don’t know how it happened, but I didn’t. didn’t get there to see my family,” Carpenter told CNN.

She also said she plans to buy a tracking device for her luggage before traveling again and is considering flying with other carriers.

“I will again be very skeptical about booking with Southwest,” she said. “I was alone here and had to buy new clothes.”

DOT to the Southwest: Do the Right Thing for Passengers

Senior US government officials were baffled, to say the least, about how Southwest got to this point. And they demand Southwest get it right – or face financial repercussions.

the The DOT officially warned Southwest Thursday that he will face consequences if he fails to repair stranded and inconvenienced passengers.

Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg wrote in a letter to Jordan that authorities would take action against the airline if it fails to deliver on promises to reimburse passengers for alternative transport costs, as well as provide meals , hotels, refunds and baggage reunification.

Sanctions include the possibility of imposing fines.

“It would be an unfair and deceptive practice to breach this commitment to passengers,” Buttigieg wrote, specifically referring to alternative travel refunds.

“The Department will use the full extent of its investigative and enforcement powers to hold Southwest accountable if it fails to honor promises made to reimburse passengers for costs incurred for alternate transportation.”

These fines could be substantial.

“The airline told me they were going to go above and beyond what was asked of them,” Buttigieg said Thursday in an interview with NBC News. “I’m looking to make sure they actually do it, and if they don’t, we’re in a position to impose tens of thousands of dollars per violation per passenger in fines.”

Regrets and Reparations

A traveler looks at his luggage in the baggage claim area inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport on Wednesday.

A traveler looks at his 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, expressed regret on Thursday over the collapse of services, promising to rebuild customer relationships that have sunk to rock bottom.

“My personal apologies are the first step in making things right after many plans changed and experiences did not meet your expectations,” Green said in a video.

“We continue to work to catch up with you, and you will continue to hear about it soon. But for now, we are focused on restoring the reliability and level of customer experience that we expect from ourselves, and you expect from us.”

His remarks came as Buttigieg made his own scathing assessment of Southwest’s troubles, calling the situation a complete “meltdown”.

“You have a business here that has a lot of cleaning to do,” he said.

People want to know: What caused this?

Ask Southwest Airlines employees about their company’s technology. You won’t get many raves.

As Southwest has grown from a Texas-based low-cost airline operating three planes to one of the largest in the country, union officials representing Southwest workers say the company has not kept pace with technological changes. And they say they have been causing concern for years.

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

They and the airline itself described an internal process that requires multiple departments to manually redesign the airline’s schedule – a system that works “the vast majority of the time”, the airline said in a statement.

In the event of a problem, the Southwest software, including the Crew Planning System tool, leaves much of the work of rebuilding this tricky network to be done manually.

A few understanding passengers

Some passengers took it all in stride and showed some sympathy for Southwest.

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

“I mean, it’s just par for the course. It’s air travel, everyone’s trying to get everywhere at once. Unfortunately, Southwest has taken the brunt of the unfortunate travel situation this year. “, Roderic Hister told CNN.

When asked what he thought of the lack of queues at counters in the southwest of the airport, Hister replied, “Maybe he’s talking about the improvements they’re trying to make. bring, because there are no long lines, people don’t complain here. So, maybe you know, efforts to redeem themselves work.”

Winston Williams, standing near Hister, said he intended to continue using the airline in the future. “I love Southwest. I mean the bags are free,” Williams said.

Tainted reputation

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

But many people still take a hard line with Southwest.

Elaine Chao, who served as transportation secretary during the Trump administration, described the Southwest Airlines outage as “a failure of incredible proportions.”

She told CNN it was “a perfect storm of everything that happened with the company. It will take them a very long time” to restore trust with consumers, she added.

Phil Dengler, co-founder of the travel advice site The vacationeragrees.

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

“A lot of Americans only fly once a year and they want a hassle-free experience. cheaper,” Dengler said.

“While low prices are attractive, this collapse will encourage many travelers to explore other low-cost options.”

What customers should do

Dengler cautions to proceed with caution when it comes to these promised refunds.

“Southwest says, ‘We will honor reasonable requests for reimbursement for meals, hotel and alternate transportation,'” he said. “While Southwest is vague on how much they will refund, I would avoid any expensive hotels or restaurants. Use Google Hotels to find nearby hotels near the airport where you are stranded.”

And he also warns against piling up a big tab.

“Do some Google searches such as ‘free things to do near me.’ I doubt Southwest will reimburse for tours or other paid activities, so I wouldn’t book expensive excursions 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 story.

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