Last week’s winter weather travel chaos lingers like this week’s vicious hangover — for Southwest Airlines, its CEO Bob Jordan, airline workers and, most importantly, migraines its frustrated passengers on Monday.
As of 6 p.m. ET Monday, more than 3,700 flights within, in and out of the U.S. have been canceled and more than 6,700 have been delayed, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.
But Southwest has a staggering share of it. No other U.S. carrier has canceled as many flights or schedules as Southwest.
As of 6 p.m. Monday, the Dallas-based carrier had canceled more than two-thirds of its flights — nearly 2,800 in total, According to FlightAware.
At one point, it canceled about 300 flights in a half-hour Monday afternoon.
On Christmas night, before Monday’s debacle, Jordan told employees that the airline “has a lot of problems running right now.”
An airline source provided CNN with a transcript of the message sent to Southwest employees.
Jordan told employees, “Part of the pain we suffer is the lack of tools. We’ve talked a lot about modernizing our operations and the need to do so.
On social media, customers complain loudly Questions about long lines with representatives, lost luggage issues, long wait times, or busy airline customer service phone lines.
CNN’s Carlos Suarez talks to frustrated passengers at the Southwest ticket office at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Monday.
He reported that at one point there was a long queue of about 150 customers waiting to be rebooked, and the line snaked behind the ticket counter.
Southwest responded to the mass cancellations in an emailed statement Monday afternoon:
“As consecutive days of extreme winter weather across our network pass, the ongoing challenges are impacting our customers and employees in an unacceptably significant way,” the statement read.
“We are working with the security community at the forefront to urgently address the massive outage. …On the other hand, we will try to do what is right for those who let us down, including our employees. ”
In a statement to CNN earlier Monday, Southwest Airlines said, “Due to the ongoing impact (of the winter storm) on our overall operations, our network is experiencing disruption.”
Some of the airports experiencing the biggest problems are Denver, Las Vegas, Chicago Midway, Baltimore/Washington, Dallas Love Field and Phoenix Sky Harbor.
CNN calls to Southwest Airlines customer service on Monday afternoon did not go through, so customers couldn’t even line up to speak to a representative. Southwest Airlines told CNN it was “fully staffed to answer the call.”
The airline also said that “those whose flights were canceled can request a full refund or receive flight credits that do not expire.”
A sort of tweet Around 6 p.m. ET, there were more than 1,000 responses from Southwest directing customers to self-service options — many of them angry.
One of the partial replies was: “Stop blaming the weather! Had to buy a first class ticket on another airline, but it departed on time! You still have our luggage, which has medication! The phone doesn’t work!”
In a message to employees Sunday night, Jordan said, “We need to be able to produce solutions faster.” He said the airline is “committed and invested” in improving its systems.
The president of the union representing Southwest flight attendants said in an interview with CNN’s Pamela Brown on Monday that the systems have left their members in a bind.
“The phone system the company was using wasn’t working. They just weren’t staffed enough to change the schedules of the flight attendants, and that created a knock-on effect, causing chaos across the country,” Lyn Montgomery, president of TWU Local 556, told CNN.
She said some flight attendants had to sleep at the airport as a result.
Later Monday afternoon, Montgomery expressed outrage on behalf of workers and customers at a news conference.
“The way Southwest Airlines treats its cabin crew can only be described as ‘despicable,'” Montgomery said. Work and work long hours; we’re flight attendants.
“But at this point, despite many union calls for modernisation, management’s failures over the years have left flight attendants tired, stranded, hungry and cold – at Christmas! It affects lives and threatens the safety of all.”
“Company failures happen year-round, but especially at Christmas,” Montgomery said. “Like thousands of our flight attendants, our customers are struggling with this.”
FlightAware spokeswoman Kathleen Bangs said in a live interview that Southwest’s flight schedule included shorter flights and tighter turnaround times, which caused some problems. “Those turnaround times bogged things down,” Bangs said.
CNN has reached out to the airline for comment on Jordan’s video message.
If you’re stuck and efforts to contact a customer service agent are going nowhere, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights recommends trying an international number.
“American Airlines’ main hotline will be jammed with other rebooked passengers. To reach an agent quickly, call any of the airline’s dozens of international offices,” Scott Keyes said.
“Agents can process your reservations just like US agents, but with virtually no wait to get through.”
Click here for Southwest Airlines previously issued international numbers.
Check out the latest forecast as winter storms hit the US
This may not be fully resolved until next week.
“When more than 10,000 flights were canceled in the past week, airlines need time to address and relocate the backlog,” Case told CNN Travel in an email.
“While it will depend on the weather forecast (which looks promising for most of the country) and how many travelers end up canceling their holiday plans, I would expect things to be largely back to normal by next week,” Case said.
Why are so many people unable to rebook?
“One complicating factor for people looking to relocate is how few seats are available this season,” Case said.
“This is both because Christmas and New Years is one of the most popular times of year to travel, but also because the number of scheduled flights is still down 15-20% this year, making it even more challenging for those needing to rebook”
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 19 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 7 degrees Celsius) around 4 p.m. ET, with light snow falling on top of the large snowpack already seen in the area.
It’s not just airports that are affected. Road trips remain dangerous due to extremely cold conditions.
Emergency restrictions on driving were lifted in some communities in western New York state Erie County but remained in place in Buffalo, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Monday.
“Much of the city of Buffalo is impassable, and while major arterials may have an emergency traffic lane or two, most secondary streets and alleys have not been touched yet,” Poloncarz said.
He added that the clearing of major roads was primarily a life-saving measure, opening up areas around hospitals and nursing homes.
A winter storm sweeping across the U.S. has come at an inopportune time for travelers already starting to push Christmas week flight numbers back 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 canceled, according to FlightAware.
Friday was the worst day of the streak, with 5,934 cancellations, compared with nearly 2,700 on Thursday.
Winter weather is expected to ease slowly over the eastern two-thirds of the country this week.