(CNN) – The chaos of last week’s winter travel began lingering like a sinister hangover on this week–and the headaches are to match the migraines of Southwest Airlines, its CEO Bob Jordan, the airline staff, and most of all. its frustrated passengers on Monday.
But the Southwest accounts for an enormous share of those. No other US carrier has canceled nearly as many flights or as much of its schedule as Southwest.
The Dallas-based airline canceled more than two-thirds of its flights — nearly 2,800 in all — as of 6 p.m. Monday, According to FlightAware.
At one point, it canceled about 300 flights in the space of a half hour on a Monday afternoon.
CEO: “Lots of issues in the process”
On Christmas Eve, before crashing on Monday, Jordan told employees that the airline had “a lot of issues in operation right now.”
CNN was provided a copy of the letter to Southwest employees by an aviation source.
Jordan told staff, “Part of what we’re struggling with is the lack of tools. We’ve talked a lot about modernizing the process, and the need to do that.”
On social media, customers are complaining loudly About long lines to speak with representatives, problems with lost bags and excessive wait times or signals of busyness on airline customer service phone lines.
Customers wait to rebook their Southwest Airlines flight at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Monday.
CNN’s Carlos Suarez spoke with frustrated passengers in line at the Southwest box office at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Monday.
He reported that about 150 customers were waiting in a long line at one point to rebook, with the line wiggling around the back of the ticket counter.
disturbances across our network
Southwest responded to the massive cancellation in an emailed statement Monday afternoon:
“With consecutive days of severe winter weather across our network behind us, the ongoing challenges are affecting our customers and employees in a significant and unacceptable way,” the statement read.
“We are working with Safety at the forefront to urgently address large scale disruptions. … On the other side of this, we will make things right for those we have let down, including our employees. “
In a previous statement to CNN on Monday, Southwest Airlines said it was “experiencing disruptions across our network as a result of the effects (of the winter storm) on our overall operations.”
Some of the airports with the biggest problems are Denver, Las Vegas, Chicago Midway, Baltimore/Washington, Dallas Love Field, and Phoenix Sky Harbor.
Customers faced long lines at Southwest counters Monday at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
Calls made by CNN Monday afternoon to Southwest customer service did not go through, so customers couldn’t even stand in line to speak to a representative. Southwest told CNN it is “fully equipped to take calls.”
The airline also says, “Those whose flights are canceled may request a full refund or receive a non-expiring flight credit.”
One response read in part: “Stop blaming the weather! Had to buy a first class ticket on another airline but got turned over on time! You still have our luggage with meds inside! You can’t go through the phone!”
Ripple effects in the southwest
“We need to be able to produce solutions faster,” Jordan said in a Sunday evening message to employees. He said the airline was “committed and invested in” improving its systems.
Those systems have left their members stranded, the president of the union representing Southwest flight attendants, Pamela Brown, told CNN in an on-air interview Monday.
“The phone system that the company is using just isn’t working. They’re not busy with enough of the workforce to make changes to the flight attendants’ schedule, and that created a ripple effect that created chaos across the country,” Lynn Montgomery, president of TWU Local 556 told Network CNN.
She said some flight attendants have had to sleep in airports as a result.
The treatment of the flight crew is called “despicable.”
Montgomery expressed her outrage on behalf of workers and customers late Monday afternoon in a news release.
“The way Southwest Airlines has treated its flight crews can only be described as ‘tacky,’” Montgomery said. “We know the demands of holiday travel. We know winter storms. And believe me, we know how we have to do it and put in long hours when we are called upon to do it; We are flight attendants.
“But at this point, many years of management failure, despite many union demands for modernization, has left flight attendants exhausted, stranded, hungry and cold—at Christmas! This is affecting lives and threatening everyone’s safety.”
“Company failures happen throughout the year, but they are especially egregious at Christmas,” Montgomery said. “Our clients have struggled with it just as thousands of our flight attendants have.”
FlightAware spokeswoman Kathleen Pang said in an on-air interview that Southwest’s schedule includes shorter flights with tighter turnaround times that cause some issues. “These times of transformation have brought things to a standstill,” Bangs said.
CNN has reached out to the airline for comment on Jordan’s video message.
What can stranded travelers do?
“The main hotline for US airlines will be clogged with other passengers rebooking. To get to an agent quickly, call any one of the airline’s dozens of international offices,” said Scott Keyes.
“Agents can handle your reservation just like those in the US do, but there’s really no need to wait.”
Any relief on the horizon?
CNN meteorologist Tom Sater explains the latest forecast as a deadly winter storm continues to blast most of the United States with severe winter weather.
It may be next week before all of this is completely resolved.
“When there are more than 10,000 flight cancellations over the past week, it takes time for airlines to act and reabsorb the backlog of travelers,” Keyes told CNN Travel in an email.
“While that will depend on the weather forecast (which looks promising in most parts of the country) and how many travelers end up canceling their vacation plans, I would expect that by next week, things will be pretty much back to normal,” he said.
Why do so many people have trouble rebooking?
“One of the complicating factors for people hoping to be rehoused is the fact that there are very few seats available this season,” Keyes said.
“This is both because Christmas and New Years are two of the most popular times of the year to travel, and because the number of flights on the schedule this year remains down 15-20%, making the challenge even more acute for those who need to rebook. “
Buffalo is still reeling
Meanwhile, in hard-hit western New York, Buffalo International Airport said in its latest tweet that it plans to resume passenger flights at 11 a.m. ET on Tuesday.
The temperature at the airport was minus 19 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 7 degrees Celsius) around 4 p.m. ET, with light snow falling on top of the massive amounts already seen in the area.
Not only was the airport damaged there. Road travel remained risky due to harsh winter conditions.
“The City of Buffalo is impassable in most areas, and while the main lines may have a lane or two open to emergency traffic, most secondary roads as well as side streets are not yet touched,” Polonkarz said.
He added 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
The winter storm that swept across the United States was ill-timed for travelers who had begun to push flight numbers for Christmas week to pre-pandemic levels.
On Christmas Day, 3,178 flights were canceled and 6,870 delayed, according to FlightAware.
On Christmas Eve, a total of 3,487 flights were cancelled, according to FlightAware.
Friday was the worst day in this streak with 5,934 cancellations, while Thursday saw nearly 2,700 cancellations.
This massive winter weather across the eastern two-thirds of the country is expected to slowly moderate this week.
CNN’s Ross Levitt, Rebecca Reese, Chris Boyette, and Artemis Moshtagian contributed to this story.
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