(CNN) Relief is still a few days away for passengers who booked with Southwest Airlines this week, as the embattled carrier continues to grapple with what US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has called a complete system collapse.
The airports most affected by Wednesday’s cancellations are Denver International, followed by Chicago Midway International, Baltimore/Washington International, Nashville International, Dallas Love Field, Harry Reid Las Vegas International and Las Vegas International of Phoenix Sky Harbor.
Buttigieg says he spoke directly with Southwest CEO Bob Jordan on Tuesday about the thousands of flights that have been canceled this week with no immediate indication of when passengers can rebook.
“His system has really completely melted down,” Buttigieg told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday.
“I’ve made it clear that our department will hold them accountable for their responsibilities to customers, both to help them get through this situation and to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
tuesday at a glance
CNN’s Carlos Suarez reports from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport, where travelers face long lines and flight cancellations after a massive winter storm hit the US.
More than 3,200 flights within, to or from the United States were canceled Tuesday, according to FlightAware.
Of those canceled flights, some 2,694 were from Southwest, a staggering 84% of all canceled flights in the United States.
Long lines of travelers trying to rebook or make connections were seen Tuesday at Southwest ticket counters at several U.S. airports, Vegas and William P. Hobby Airport in Houston.
Passenger Trisha Jones told CNN at the Atlanta airport that she and her partner had been traveling for five days, trying to reach their home in Wichita, Kansas, after disembarking from a cruise ship in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
After her outbound flight was cancelled, she stayed with relatives, then diverted to Atlanta for a connecting flight.
“We were lucky, because we were in Fort Lauderdale; my family lives in the Tampa Bay area, so we were able to rent a car to go see my family for Christmas,” Jones said. “We have seen many families sleeping on the floor and it breaks my heart.”
Buttigieg: ‘A lot of cleaning to do’
Canceled Southwest Airlines flights are displayed on an information board at Oakland International Airport in California on Tuesday.
Southwest has blamed the travel disaster on several factors, including winter storm delays, aggressive flight scheduling and aging infrastructure.
“From what I can tell, Southwest can’t even locate where its own crews are, let alone its own passengers, let alone baggage,” Buttigieg said, adding that he also spoke with airline union leaders. representing flight attendants and pilots.
The secretary said he told CEO Jordan that he expects Southwest to proactively offer refunds and expense reimbursements to affected passengers without them having to ask.
“I have conveyed to the CEO our expectation that they are going to do everything they can to take care of the passengers and address this,” he said.
Buttigieg told CNN that the Department of Transportation is prepared to fine Southwest if there is evidence the company failed to meet its legal obligations, but added that the department will take a closer look at ongoing customer service problems at the airline. .
“While all the other parts of the aviation system have been picking up and getting better every day, it’s actually been moving in the opposite direction with this airline,” Buttigieg said.
“You have a company here that has a lot to clean up,” he said.
Southwest CEO issues apology video
“We’re doing everything we can to get back to normal operation, and also hear that I’m so sorry,” Jordan said.
While Jordan acknowledged problems with the company’s response, the statement suggested he did not foresee any massive changes to Southwest’s procedures in response to the mass cancellations.
“The tools we use to recover from the outage serve us well 99% of the time, but clearly we need to redouble our already existing plans to update systems for these extreme circumstances so that we never face what’s happening right now again,” Jordan said. .
“We are optimistic to return to normality before next week.”
Is there anything the passengers can do?
Katy Nastro, spokesperson for Scott’s Cheap Flights, shares her tips on what to do if your flight is delayed or cancelled.
Southwest has warned that this week’s cancellations and delays are expected to continue for several more days.
So what are customers to do?
“Every airline in the country is packed right now, so your chances of finding a seat, let alone at a decent average price, are getting smaller by the hour,” Potter said.
“Travellers in the middle of this need to make sure they save all their receipts: other flights, a rental car, hotel nights, meals, anything,” Potter said.
“The main hotline for US airlines will be overwhelmed with other rebooking passengers. To quickly reach an agent, call any of the airline’s dozens of international offices,” Scott Keyes said.
“Agents can handle your reservation the same as those in the US, but there’s virtually no waiting to get through.”
Southwest: ‘Save your receipts’
After their flight was cancelled, 13 strangers decided to rent a van and drive from Orlando to Knoxville, Tennessee.
Southwest spokesman Jay McVay said at a news conference at Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport Monday night that the airline will do everything possible to correct the challenges passengers have experienced, including “hotels, assistance on the trip, vans… rental cars to try to make sure these people get home as quickly as possible.”
He promised that all customers, even those who had already left the airport or made alternative arrangements on their own, would also be served.
“If you’re gone, take care of yourself, do what you need to do for your family, save your receipts,” McVay relayed. “We’ll make sure they’re taken care of, that’s not a question.”
What is wrong from a pilot’s point of view
Passengers look for their luggage at the Hollywood Burbank airport in California on Tuesday.
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
He described last week’s storm as a catalyst that helped trigger major technical problems.
“What went wrong is that our IT infrastructure for the scheduling software is very out of date,” he said. “It can’t handle the number of pilots, flight attendants we have in the system, with our complex route network.
“We don’t have the normal hub that other major airlines have. We fly on a point-to-point network, which can put our crews in the wrong places, without planes.”
He added: “It’s frustrating for the pilots, the flight attendants and especially our passengers. We’re tired of apologizing for Southwest, the airline pilots, our hearts go out to all the passengers, they really do.”
Andy Rose, Andi Babineau, Adrienne Broaddus, Dave Alsap, Nick Valencia, David Goldman, Leslie Perrot, Carlos Suarez and CNN’s Ross Levitt contributed to this story.
Leave a Comment