Southwest flights: Disruptions expected to continue as airline scrambles to get back on schedule

Southwest airline issues affecting 62% of flights Wednesday

ByMichelle Gallardo and Christian Piekos WLS logo
Thursday, December 29, 2022
Southwest flights: Disruptions expected to continue as airline scrambles to get back on schedule
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Southwest Airlines has canceled 62% of its flights Wednesday, or about 90% of all flights canceled across the U.S.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Southwest Airlines said it's once again canceling thousands of flights nationwide Wednesday, leaving thousands of passengers stranded all across the country.

Chicago's Midway Airport is much quieter than it's been in recent days but, only because flights are now being canceled in advance, however, the sea of unclaimed luggage continues to pile up despite the progress being made to reunite bags with their owners.

Southwest Airlines canceled 62% of its flights Wednesday, or about 90% of all flights canceled across the U.S.

Over 2,500 Southwest flights were canceled nationally Wednesday, and hundreds more are delayed, forcing exhausted customers to consider renting cars or rebooking with other airlines.

It's been nothing short of a holiday travel nightmare for Southwest passengers and employees alike.

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Some passengers have slept at Midway, exhausted and frustrated, trying to rebook flights that may not leave for days.

Shari Broder has been wearing the same shirt for a few days now.

"We've managed to find two of our bags here. We're still missing the big one, but they claim it's here somewhere," Broder said.

She, along with her husband, were stranded during a layover in Baltimore for two nights before finally, after three cancelations, flying United to Chicago Tuesday to reunite with family.

"It's been expensive. And they gave me vouchers but I'm never going to fly Southwest again," Broder said.

It's a similar story from Ronald Coleman, who, along with his wife and daughter, missed a New Year's Eve cruise they were scheduled to take this week.

"I was able to get my port taxes back, like $400, so we lost $1,900 or something like that," Coleman said.

And while Southwest has promised to honor what they call, "...reasonable requests for reimbursement for meals, hotel, and alternate transportation," what does that mean? Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the federal government will be keeping an eye on the airline.

"In order to restore that relationship with their customers, Southwest is going to have to not only make them financially whole, but find a way to really rebuild trust and confidence," Buttigieg said on Good Morning America.

Rebuilding trust among their employees is also going to take time. While things have improved significantly since Monday's chaos, the flight attendants union said for a while that the airline literally did not know where many of their crews were, as antiquated phone systems left them unable to handle the deluge of calls coming in from all over the country.

"There are still flight attendants that are stuck in hotels. Still people who are somewhere different than scheduling in the company thinks they are. We have a lot to unravel to make sure that people are properly compensated," said Corliss King, with the Flight Attendants Union, TWU Local 556.

While they have apologized multiple times for the debacle, Southwest said it expects disruptions to continue throughout the week until planes and crews can all be put back into position to resume a normal schedule.

The airline posted a video on Tuesday evening featuring CEO Bob Jordan.

"We're doing everything we can to return to normal operation," Jordan said in the video.

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He said he's "truly sorry" for the substantial issues caused by the airline.

Passengers at Midway said they're left disappointed in Southwest.

"We thought that Southwest was a pretty sophisticated airline, that everything's always been smooth on our travels, but this seems like just a meltdown," said David Whelan, whose flight was canceled.

The Department of Transportation is looking into whether Southwest's cancellations were controllable, and if the airline is complying with its customer service plan.

"This has crossed the line into something that is not just a weather delay but something that the airline is responsible for," Buttigieg said.

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"My father is driving from Grand Rapids to here to pick us up, to pick us up and bring us back to Grand Rapids. So, he's got a six-hour-plus drive going on," Emily Gran said.

Southwest said a system-wide waiver is in place through Jan. 2.

"Customers holding any Southwest reservation from Sunday, December 25 through Monday, January 2, may rebook in the original class of service or travel standby (within 14 days of their original date of travel between the original city-pairs and in accordance with our accommodation procedures) without paying any additional charge," the airline said.

But according to one industry expert, passengers may be entitled to more than that.

"Make sure you save those receipts because you're going to want to submit those to Southwest after the fact to see about getting your hotel, your meal, your taxi ride reimbursed, especially because it seems as though this is not a wave of cancellations that is weather-related the way it was earlier in the week," Scott Keyes of Scott's Cheap Flights said.

"Exhausted. I'm ready to go to bed. I'm ready to go to sleep immediately," Southwest passenger Zakiya Rowe said.

Southwest Airlines passengers were running on fumes Wednesday morning, as the travel weary attempted to find their unclaimed luggage around Midway airport's baggage carousels - like looking for a needle in a haystack.

"I think the worst part was when they canceled out flights, they didn't give us our luggage. So, these clothes have been on us for four days, so..." Paul Shelby said.

Some are extending some grace to the airline, as the holidays come to a close.

"Everybody we've worked with has been very friendly and helpful to us. So I give them kudos for that," Teri Schrimpf said.

Southwest captain and union president Casey Murray told ABC News the situation was "catastrophic."

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"It's been a failure at every level at Southwest. Our pilots, our front line employees have worked under enormous stress to try to get our passengers from A to B, but we were dealt a really bad hand as far as Southwest is concerned," Murray said.

The flight attendant union also released a statement, saying in part, "Southwest Airlines has failed its employees once again, the result of years of refusal to modernize operations, notes TWU Local 556, the union of Southwest Airlines flight attendants. And this time, it's on Christmas."

The Chicago Department of Aviation released a statement saying, "At the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA), the highest priority is to create a safe, secure and efficient environment for passengers and employees.

"With the support of Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot and CDA Commissioner Jamie L. Rhee, CDA staff, and partners at the airlines and the FAA, Chicago's airports support increased passenger volume over the holiday travel period.

"Passengers should check flight status with their airline in advance of coming to the airports."

The Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) said Wednesday that Southwest, which is the largest carrier at Midway International Airport, has increased their overall operations by approximately 20% in the last two days and expects to be back at 100% by this weekend.

CDA also said the airline has assured that all baggage being stored at Midway baggage claim will be removed and placed into a secure facility by the end of the day Wednesday before continuing on to its final destination.

CDA has deployed additional security from O'Hare to Midway to ensure the baggage claim area remains secure round-the-clock.

"The CDA will continue to urge Southwest to better communicate with the public and further extend its policies on reimbursements and cancellations," officials said in a statement.