February 6, 2023

Southwest Airlines’ disruption left customers stranded, and call centers flooded

(CNN) – The travel chaos of last week’s wintry weather is starting to linger like this week’s hangover — and the headache is commensurate with the migraines of Southwest Airlines and its frustrated passengers on Monday.

More than 3,600 flights in, in, or out of the United States had already been canceled by 4:10 p.m. ET on Monday, according to the flight-tracking website. FlightAwareWhile nearly 5,800 flights have been delayed.

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 nearly two-thirds of its flights — about 2,700 in all — as of 4:10 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.

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

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 widespread disruptions by rebalancing the airline and ultimately repositioning our crew and fleet to best serve all who plan to fly with us.

“On the other side of this, we will work to 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 problem are Denver, Las Vegas, Chicago Midway, Baltimore/Washington, and Dallas Love Field where Southwest operates.

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

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

WRAL

Calls to Southwest customer service that CNN attempted Monday afternoon were not made, 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.”

a tweet Southwest directing customers to self-service options got more than 870 responses — many of them angry — around 4:30 p.m. ET.

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!”

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.

What can stranded travelers do?

If you’ve been left in a bind and your efforts to reach a customer service agent are going nowhere, founder Cheap scoot flights He suggests trying an international number.

“The main hotline for US airlines will be clogged with other passengers rebooking. To get to an agent quickly, call any 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?

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. “

The road condition is bad

Road travel has remained treacherous in parts of the United States due to harsh winter conditions.

In western Erie County, New York state, emergency driving restrictions have been lifted in some communities however She remained in place in BuffaloCounty Executive Mark Poloncars said Monday.

“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.

More developments in this breaking news.

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