Southwest Airlines disruption leaves customers stranded, call centers swamped

(CNN) — The travel turmoil of last week’s wintry weather lingers like a hangover this week — and the headaches for Southwest Airlines and its frustrated passengers on Monday are of migraine-proportions.

More than 3,600 flights in or out of the U.S. were canceled as of 4:10 p.m. Monday, while about 5,800 flights were delayed, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.

But the Southwest has a large share of it. Any other US Carriers have not canceled as many flights as Southwest, or as many flights on their schedule.

The Dallas-based airline had canceled about two-thirds of its flights — about 2,700 in total — as of 4:10 p.m. Monday, according to FlightAware. At one point, it canceled nearly 300 flights in a span of half an hour on Monday afternoon.

Consumers are complaining loudly on social media About long lines, lost bags and excessive wait times to speak with representatives, or busy signals on the airline’s customer service telephone lines.

Customers wait to rebook their Southwest Airlines flights at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Monday.

Customers wait to rebook their Southwest Airlines flights at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Monday.


CNN’s Carlos Suarez spoke to frustrated passengers in line at the Southwest ticket counter at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Monday.

He reported that at one point around 150 customers were waiting to be rebooked in a long line, with the line snaking around behind the ticket counter.

‘Disruptions to our network’

Southwest responded to the massive cancellation in an emailed statement Monday afternoon:

“With continued severe winter weather on our backend network, the ongoing challenges are significantly impacting our customers and employees which is unacceptable,” the statement read.

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“We are working with safety at the forefront to urgently address the widespread disruption by rebalancing the airline and eventually repositioning crew and our fleet to best serve all those who plan to travel with us.

“On the other side of this, we’ll work to make things right for those we’ve laid off, including our employees.”

In an earlier statement to CNN on Monday, Southwest Airlines said it was experiencing disruptions to our network as a result of “(the winter storm’s) lingering effects on the integrity of our operations.”

Some of the airports seeing the biggest problems are Denver, Las Vegas, Chicago Midway, Baltimore/Washington and Dallas Love Field where Southwest operates.

Customers faced long lines at Southwest counters at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Monday.

Customers faced long lines at Southwest counters at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Monday.


Calls to Southwest’s customer service attempted Monday afternoon by CNN did not go through, so customers were not even in line to speak with a representative. Southwest told CNN it is “fully staffed to answer calls.”

The airline also says, “those whose flights are canceled may request a full refund or receive flight credit, which does not expire.”

a Tweet Southwest had more than 870 replies directing customers to self-service options — many of them angry — by about 4:30 pm ET.

Part of the reply read: “Stop blaming the weather! Had to buy a first class ticket on another airline, but it took off on time! You still have our luggage with medicine inside! Can’t get on the phone!”

Meanwhile, in hard-hit western New York, Buffalo International Airport said in its most recent tweet that it plans to resume passenger flights at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

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The temperature at the airport was 19 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 7 Celsius) around 4 a.m. ET, adding to the large amounts of light snow already seen in the area.

What can stranded passengers do?

If you’ve been left in the dark and your efforts to reach a customer service agent go nowhere, Scott’s Cheap Flights founder suggests trying an international number.

“The main hotline for US airlines will be overwhelmed by other passengers rebooking. To reach an agent quickly, call any one of the airline’s dozens of international offices,” said Scott Keys.

“Agents can handle your reservation just like those based in the US, but there’s virtually no wait time to get through.”

Any relief in sight?

It may be next week before this is all fully resolved.

“With more than 10,000 flight cancellations in the past week, it takes time for airlines to complete and reschedule the backlog of travelers,” Keyes told CNN Travel in an email.

“While it will depend on the weather forecast (which looks promising for much of the country) and how many travelers cancel their holiday plans, I expect that by next week, things will be mostly back to normal,” Keys said.

And why are so many people having trouble rebooking?

“A complicating factor for those hoping to reinstate is the fact that there are very few seats available this season,” Keys said.

“That’s both because Christmas and New Year are among the most popular times of the year for travel, and because the number of flights on schedule this year is still 15-20% lower, exacerbating the challenge for those who need to rebook. Makes. “

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Bad road conditions

Extreme winter conditions in some parts of the US made road travel treacherous.

In New York state’s western Erie County, emergency driving restrictions were lifted in some communities but remain in place in Buffalo, County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Monday.

“The city of Buffalo is impassable in most areas, while major thoroughfares may be open to an emergency traffic or two, most secondary and side streets are still untouched,” Poloncarz said.

He added that the main roads cleared are mainly for the use of life-saving measures to open areas around hospitals and nursing homes.

Rough past week

The winter storm that swept across the U.S. was inauspicious timing for travelers who began pushing Christmas weekend numbers toward pre-pandemic levels.

On Christmas Day, 3,178 flights were canceled and 6,870 flights were delayed, according to FlightAware.

On Christmas Eve, a total of 3,487 flights were cancelled, according to FlightAware.

Friday was the worst day of the streak with 5,934 cancellations, while Thursday saw nearly 2,700 cancellations.

This megablast of wintry weather is forecast to gradually moderate over the eastern two-thirds of the country this week.

There are more developments to come on this breaking news story.

CNN’s Ross Levitt, Chris Boyett and Artemis Moshtagian contributed to this story.


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