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Southwest Airlines flight cancellations continue to snowball


DALLAS: Travelers who trusted Southwest Airlines to get them home, they suffered another wave of cancellations on Wednesday, and growing pressure on the federal government to get customers reimbursed for unexpected costs they incurred as a result of airline incident.
Exhausted Southwest travelers have tried to find seats on other airlines or hire cars to get to their destinations, but many are still stuck. The airline’s chief executive said it could take until next week for flights to return to normal.
Adontis Barber, a 34-year-old jazz pianist from Kansas City, Missouri, has been camping out at the city’s airport since his Southwest flight was canceled Saturday, hoping to get a gig. Celebrate New Year’s Eve in Washington, DC.
He left the airport on Wednesday. “I give up,” he said. “I’m starting to feel homeless.”
By early afternoon on the East Coast, about 90% of all flights canceled on Wednesday in the United States were in the Southwest, according to tracking service FlightAware.
Other airlines have recovered from the fierce winter storms that hit large swaths of the country over the weekend, but not Southwest, which made 2,500 flights Wednesday and 2,300. another on Thursday.
Dallas Airlines was marred by a combination of factors including an outdated crew scheduling system and a network design that allowed cancellations in one area to happen quickly across the country. country. Those weaknesses are not new — they contributed to a similar Southwest failure in October 2021.
The US Department of Transportation is currently investigating what happened at Southwest, which carries more passengers in the US than any other airline. A Senate committee also promised to investigate.
In a video Southwest posted late Tuesday, CEO Robert Jordan said Southwest will implement a reduced schedule for several days but hopes to “get back on track before next week.”
“We have some real work to do to get this right,” said Jordan, a 34-year-old Southwestern veteran who became CEO in February. “For now, I want you to know that we’re committed to that.”
Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has criticized airlines for previous disruptions, said “chaos” was the only word he could think of to describe this week’s events at the airport. Southwest. He noted that while canceled flights in the rest of the industry fell to about 4% of scheduled flights, the rate remained above 60% at Southwest.
From high cancellation rates to customers not being able to reach Southwest by phone, the airline’s performance is unacceptable, Buttigieg said. He vowed to hold the airline accountable and push for it to refund travelers.
“They need to make sure those stranded passengers get where they need to go and that they’re adequately compensated,” including for missed flights, hotels and meals, he said Wednesday on the show. ABC’s “Good Morning America”.
Robert Mann, an aviation consultant and former airline executive, said the Department of Transportation could force Southwest to issue refunds for all flights canceled for reasons within its control. airlines, such as crew shortages. He estimates that a total of 6,000 cancellations could affect 1 million customers and cost up to $300 million in damages.
Since Southwest plans to pay $428 million in shareholder dividends next month, “these numbers are not life-threatening, although brand damage has been done,” Mann said.
Some consumer advocates are skeptical the government will punish Southwest.
William McGeeA travel expert at the American Economic Freedom Project, noted that the Department of Transportation fined Frontier Airlines and several foreign carriers for delaying refunds during the early part of the pandemic but left four carriers untouched. America’s largest airline.
“What Pete Buttigieg should do and what he’s going to do are probably two different things,” McGee said. His team wants a change in federal law to make it easier for states and private parties to sue airlines for harming consumers.
On its website, Southwest asks customers affected by canceled or delayed flights between December 24 and January 2 to submit receipts. The airline said, “We will honor reasonable requests for reimbursement of alternative meals, hotels and transportation.”
Navy doctor Lt Cmdr Manoj Mathew said that after being held for hours for two days, Southwest reimbursed him for the cost of the first leg of his family’s trip from Washington to Houston — they drove in poor condition. terrible weather after the December 23 flight was cancelled. Now he worries whether Southwest will operate the flight back on Sunday.
“I’m trying to reach other airlines,” he said. “There are no flights, plus it’s very expensive for us.”
Delta Air Lines said it will cap last-minute fares in Southwest markets through the weekend, and American Airlines said it is also capping fares in “selected” cities. No data provided.
Leaders of the Southwest labor union have warned for years that the airline’s crew planning system, which dates back to the 1990s, is failing to keep up as route maps grow increasingly complex.
“This isn’t actually the airline that (Southwest co-founder) Herb Kelleher built where planes travel from,” said Randy Barnes, president of the union that represents Southwest ground workers. point to point”. “If airline managers had planned better, the crisis we’ve seen in recent days could be alleviated or averted.”
Other major US airlines use “hub and spokes” networks in which flights radiate from a few major airports or hubs. That helps limit the scope of disruptions caused by bad weather in some parts of the country.
However, Southwest has a “point to point” network, in which planes travel across the country during the day. This can increase the usability and efficiency of individual aircraft, but problems in one place can spread across the country and cause crews to lose positions. (Crews can also get stuck at airlines with hubs and spokes.)
Those issues don’t explain all of the complaints that stranded travelers have about Southwest, including not being able to reach the airline by phone and not being able to help with hotels and meals.
Teal Williams, a 48-year-old active-duty reservist from Utah, was stranded at the Denver airport with her husband and two teenage children on Christmas Day after their flight to Des Moines, Iowa, crashed. cancel. She said Southwest employees had no information about flights and did not provide meal vouchers while elderly passengers were in wheelchairs for hours and mothers ran out of formula for their babies.
“It’s just blowing up and nobody can tell you anything,” Williams said. The airline staff “tried desperately to help, but you could tell they were just as clueless as the others…it was scary.”
Unable to find a seat on a plane, train or bus, Williams and his family felt lucky to have rented a car. They drove 12 hours to Iowa.

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