Southwest Airlines canceled more than 2,900 flights Monday, disrupting vacation plans across the country, stranding passengers and causing chaos at some airports as much of the country continued to reel from a historic winter storm.
The airline blamed extreme weather for the cancellations, adding in a statement that “our sincerest apologies for this are just beginning. … We recognize that we fell short and sincerely apologize.”
Frustrated travelers, including those at Los Angeles International Airport, reported long lines, lost luggage and unstaffed flights after Southwest routes were canceled or delayed, and some were told not to wait for a flight home for days.
The low-cost carrier had canceled nearly 70% of its scheduled flights across the country, some 2,905 flights, far more than any other major US carrier, as of Monday night, according to tracking site FlightAware. Among all airlines, more than 3,900 domestic and international flights have been cancelled, the site said.
According to FlightAware data, LAX experienced 77 cancellations, or 9% of all its Southwest flights, and 125 delays. But it fared better than other airports in the country, including those in Sacramento, San Jose, Denver, Las Vegas and Atlanta. Sacramento saw 45% of its flights canceled and San José 29%.
The US Department of Transportation said Monday afternoon that it was “concerned about Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays”, as well as reports of “lack of timely customer service”.
“The Department will review whether the cancellations were controllable and whether Southwest is following through on its customer service plan,” the agency said in a tweet.
As departure screens at airports across the country lit up with delays and cancellations, travelers were looking for other ways to communicate with family and friends. Some rushed to rent cars, opting to take long drives rather than wait at the airport.
What was supposed to be a one and a half hour flight from Sacramento to Los Angeles on Monday for Matt Grippi turned into a six hour drive. He was in a rush to catch an international flight scheduled for Tuesday and didn’t trust Southwest to get him to LAX on time.
His only options were layovers of up to 26 hours that cost thousands of dollars, he said.
“All possible flights that I could have taken today to get home have been cancelled,” Grippi said. “Communication from Southwest has been terrible. I’m not sure I can trust them again.”
Monday’s cancellations follow days of other travel disruptions due to a nearly unprecedented weather event that stretched from the Great Lakes to the Rio Grande. About 60% of the US population faced some sort of winter weather watch or warning, with temperatures dropping dramatically below normal from the Rocky Mountains east to the Appalachians. Nationwide, the storm was blamed for at least 50 deaths.
Traveler weather woes are likely to continue, with hundreds of flight cancellations already and more expected later a bomb cyclone — when air pressure drops very quickly in a severe storm — caused blizzard conditions, including high winds and snow.
In a declaration On Monday, Southwest Airlines noted “extreme winter weather” across the country and called the outages “unacceptable.”
The Dallas-based airline said it was “fully staffed and prepared” for the holiday weekend, but “operating conditions” caused by severe weather sweeping through most of the country “forced daily changes in our flight schedule in a volume and magnitude that still has the tools that our teams use to recover the airline operating at full capacity”.
The company said it was working to relocate flight crews in order to “return to normal reliability” but noted that flights could continue to experience changes over the New Year holidays.
“On the other side of this, we will work to make things right for those we have let down, including our employees,” Southwest said.
But the president of the union representing the company’s flight attendants told the Dallas Morning News that the “complete and utter chaos” was not due to a lack of staff, but to Southwest’s “archaic and outdated systems.”
On Sunday, Southwest Chief Executive Bob Jordan told company employees in a message that it could take a few more days to return to normal, the Wall Street Journal reported.
As delays and cancellations piled up, call times to airline customer service lines were averaging more than two hours, with some people having to wait up to four hours to speak with a representative, he said. the company.
A TikTok user’s post showed video of a terminal at San Diego International Airport packed with passengers waiting to speak with Southwest representatives. The caption read: “San Diego airport is WILDDD. 8 hour line to talk to Southwest attendees.”
Randy Silver, 29, said he recorded the video on Christmas Day after arriving from Sacramento, where he had spent the holidays with his girlfriend’s family. Fortunately, he said, his flight was delayed only about 20 minutes leaving Sacramento. But upon arrival in San Diego, he and the other passengers were forced to sit on the tarmac for about an hour because there were no available gates at which the plane could unload.
He said he was shocked by the delusional scene that awaited him once he got off the plane, saying he had never seen such a busy San Diego airport before.
“You could definitely tell that the people who were in line waiting to speak to the flight attendants were upset, frustrated, stressed and disappointed with what was happening,” said Silver, who flies frequently for her technology sales job. .
And while he acknowledged that other travelers found it much more difficult than he did, he said he also understood why some airlines refused to fly if it wasn’t safe to do so.
“It’s really unfortunate [that] a once-in-a-generation type of storm happened on the busiest day of the year,” he said. “As much as people want to be with family and friends, I would always like to err on the side of safety and caution.”
All Southwest Airlines flights from San Diego were canceled Monday afternoon. Most of all Southwest Airlines flights scheduled to arrive in San Diego, with the exception of one plane coming from Honolulu, have also been canceled, according to the San Diego International Airport website.
Including Southwest and all other airlines, there were at least 90 canceled flights and at least 51 delayed flights Monday at San Diego International Airport, accounting for about 42% of all flights on the busy travel day. according to FlightAware.
Maya Polon was one of the few Southwest customers who left Hollywood Burbank Airport on Monday after her original flight on Sunday was canceled twice. She spent three hours at the airport trying to get a new flight after Southwest’s website and app crashed.
“The only way to rebook was to go to the airport and talk to a human,” Polon, 28, said.
Meanwhile, her mother, Emily Payne, was on hold with Southwest for four hours, trying to help her. Polon successfully got a 2 pm flight back to Sacramento, but some of her hopeful coworkers were told they wouldn’t be catching a flight home until at least Wednesday, she said.
Polon said people were angry at the scene and police got involved in an altercation between a passenger and Southwest staff.
Associated Press and the San Diego Union-Tribune contributed to this report.