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Southwest cancels 70% of its flights as travelers try to get home


The airline acknowledged that it had been crippled by winter weather and said it plans to fly about one-third of its schedule in the coming days as it recovers.

On the travel-heavy day after Christmas, Southwest Airlines canceled more than 2,800 flights, or 70% of its schedule, frustrating passengers across the nation.

And the company plans reductions for days as it works to recover from the winter weather, flying just one-third of its schedule, the company said Monday.

“Our heartfelt apologies for this are just beginning,” Southwest said in a statement Monday.

Photos and video posted to social media showed bags piling up, and federal transportation officials called the cancellations unacceptable.

“I’m angry as hell, because I see mismanagement,” Ihore Konrad told NBC Chicago. He had been stranded at the airport for two days because of cancellations, according to the station.

Overall, around 3,900 flights were canceled within, into or out of the U.S. on Monday, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware.

Southwest had 2,893 flights canceled at one point Monday, roughly 70% of its schedule, according to the site. Delta had around 300 and United around 130.

Southwest blamed “operational challenges” that followed days of severe winter weather across most of the country.

And the problems at Southwest are not over. The airline plans to fly one-third of its schedule — or around 1,500 flights — for the next “several days” so that it can reposition flight crews who are out of position, the company said.

“On the other side of this, we’ll work to make things right for those we’ve let down, including our employees,” the company said in a statement.

Bags piled up at Denver International Airport and Chicago’s Midway Airport Monday, video showed. Southwest said it was inundated with calls and messages and asked for patience.

Southwest CEO Bob Jordan also told The Wall Street Journal that the company plans to operate just over one-third of its typical schedule Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We had a tough day today. In all likelihood we’ll have another tough day tomorrow as we work our way out of this,” Jordan told the newspaper.

Much of the continental U.S., at one point covering over 200 million people, was under winter weather warnings or alerts going into the holiday weekend, with bitterly cold temperatures and ice.

On Saturday, Sunday and Monday combined, over 8,200 flights into, out of or within the U.S. were canceled, according to FlightAware.

The issue with Southwest flights also caught the attention of the Transportation Department, which called the airline’s performance unacceptable.

“USDOT is concerned by Southwest Airlines’ disproportionate and unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays as well as the failure to properly support customers experiencing a cancellation or delay,” a department spokesperson said in a statement.

“As more information becomes available the Department will closely examine whether cancellations were controllable and whether Southwest is complying with its customer service plan as well as all other pertinent DOT rules,” the statement said.

Southwest said that it was staffed in advance of the holiday but that the severe weather greatly affected its plans.

“These operational conditions forced daily changes to our flight schedule at a volume and magnitude that still has the tools our teams use to recover the airline operating at capacity,” the airline said.

The day after Christmas is typically one of busier travel days of the year — although the Transportation Security Administration said last week it expected Dec. 22 and Dec. 30 to be the busiest this year.

More than 2 million passengers passed through TSA checkpoints Friday, and on Sunday the number was 1.7 million, according to the TSA website. Numbers for Monday had not yet been posted online.

At Raleigh-Durham International Airport in North Carolina, what was supposed to have been a flight instead turned to long trips by road — after Southwest flights were canceled, passengers were given the choice to travel by bus, NBC affiliate WRAL of Raleigh reported.

“There’s nothing else I can do except sit on this bus to get back home,” passenger Eric Ford told the station.

Source: National Broadcasting Company