January 29, 2023

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Pete Buttigieg warns Southwest CEO that he will hold the airline accountable

(CNN) – Southwest Airline’s operational meltdown has put the Dallas-headquartered company under serious scrutiny — not only from stranded passengers and media reports but also from US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

He spoke directly to Southwest CEO Bob Jordan on Tuesday about the thousands of flights that were canceled this week with no immediate indication of when passengers could rebook.

“Their system has completely melted,” Buttigieg told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday.

“I have made it clear that our management will hold them accountable for their responsibilities to customers, both to get them out of this situation and to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Passengers who booked with beleaguered Southwest Airlines were hoping to get some much-needed relief from cancellations and delays. But those hopes have – so far – been dashed.

Of the more than 2,680 cancellations already canceled Wednesday, nearly all belong to Southwest.

All other US airlines combined account for only approximately 155 of those cancellations.

Latest flight cancellation and delay numbers

A look at the current numbers shows why Buttigieg is worried.

Nearly 3,200 flights in, in or out of the United States were canceled Tuesday as of 11:45 p.m. ET, according to the flight-tracking website. FlightAware.

Of those canceled flights, about 2,691 were Southwest flights. That was nearly two-thirds of all Southwest flights for Tuesday and 84% of all canceled flights in the United States.

By contrast, competitor Alaska Airlines canceled 10% of its flights, while United Airlines had only 3%.

The airports hardest hit by Tuesday’s cancellations were Denver International, followed by Harry Reid International in Las Vegas, Chicago Midway International, Baltimore/Washington International, Nashville International and Dallas Love Field.

There were more than 7,000 delays as of 11:45 p.m. ET Tuesday.

Today’s cancellations followed a full day of Post-Christmas travel chaoswith 3,989 flights canceled Monday – 2,909 of those flights were from the Southwest.

Buttigieg takes charge of Southwest

Southwest blamed the travel debacle on a combination of factors, including winter storm delays, strict flight scheduling and aging infrastructure.

“From what I can tell, Southwest is not able to locate their own crews, let alone their passengers, let alone baggage,” Buttigieg said, adding that he also spoke with airline union leaders representing flight attendants and pilots.

The minister said he told Jordan’s CEO he expected Southwest to proactively provide refunds and reimbursements to affected passengers without them having to ask.

“I have conveyed to the CEO our expectations that they will go above and beyond to take care of the passengers and address this,” he said.

Buttigieg told CNN that the Department of Transportation is willing to pursue fines against Southwest if there is evidence that the company has failed to live up to its legal obligations, but added that the department will take a closer look at the airline’s ongoing customer service problems.

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“While all the other parts of the aviation system have been moving towards recovery and improvement each day, they are actually moving in the opposite direction with this airline,” Buttigieg said.

“You have a company here that does a lot of cleaning,” he said.

Apology video

Jordan apologized to the passengers and staff in a video statement Released by the company on Tuesday evening.

“We’re doing everything we can to get back to normal operation, and please also hear that I’m really sorry,” Jordan said.

While Jordan acknowledged problems with the company’s response, the statement indicated that he did not anticipate massive changes to Southwest’s procedures in response to the mass cancellation.

“The tools we use to recover from disruption serve us well 99% of the time, but clearly we need to double down on our existing systems upgrade plans for these extreme conditions so we don’t experience what is happening now again,” Jordan said.

“We are hopeful we will be back on track before next week.”

So what can commuters of Southwest do?

Katie Nastro, a spokeswoman for Scott Cheap Flights, shares her advice on what to do if your flight is delayed or canceled.

Southwest warned that cancellations and delays are expected to continue this week for several more days.

So where does that leave customers in a real jam? What should they do?

“First things first, travelers who are still waiting in the Southwest and need to get somewhere should try to book a flight with another airline as soon as possible… right now, truly”. website The traveler is thriftyin an email to CNN Travel late Tuesday afternoon.

“Every airline in the country is packed right now, so the odds of finding a seat—let alone getting a decent halfway fare—are getting smaller by the hour,” Potter said.

“Travelers in the midst of this need to make sure they keep all their receipts: other flights, rental car, hotel nights, meals, anything,” Potter said.

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 one 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.”

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Double the problems

The Southwest has been hit hard by a series of issues.

The storm hit two of its largest centers — Chicago and Denver — at a time when winter illnesses were causing long staff rosters. Southwest’s rigid schedule and lack of investment were also blamed.

The winter storm that swept across the country 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.

Long lines and piles of bags at airports

Travelers wait at the Southwest Airlines baggage counter to retrieve their baggage after canceled flights at Los Angeles International Airport, Monday, December 26, 2022, in Los Angeles.

Eugene Garcia/AP

At the Southwest box office at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Tuesday morning, long lines were already piling up as travelers waited to try to rebook flights or make connections.

And at Chicago’s Midway International, huge amounts of unclaimed bags piled up as passengers struggled to retrieve their luggage. There were similar scenes at other airports including Harry Reid in Las Vegas and William P. Hobby Airport in Houston.

Passenger Trisha Jones told CNN at Atlanta airport that she and her partner have been traveling for five days, trying to get home in Wichita, Kansas, after disembarking from a cruise in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

After her flight was cancelled, she stayed with relatives and then rerouted to Atlanta to catch 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’ve seen so many families sleeping on the floor, and it just breaks my heart.”

Southwest: “Keep Your Receipts”

A Southwest Airlines spokesperson said a recent winter storm was to blame for the string of cancellations.

“As the storm continued to sweep across the country, it continued to affect many of our large terminals, and so the cancellations piled up one by one, numbering 100 to 150 to 1,000,” Jay McVay said at a news conference at Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport. Monday night.

“With these cancellations and as a result, we end up with flight crews and aircraft out of place and not in the cities they need to be in to continue running our operations.”

McVeigh said the company’s number one priority right now is safety. “We want to make sure that we operate these flights safely and that we have flight crews who have the legal and sufficient time to operate these flights,” he said.

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“We’re going to do whatever we need to do to correct the challenges we have now,” he said, including “hotels, ride assistance, vans… rental cars to try to make sure these people get home as quickly as possible.”

He promised that all clients, even those who had already left the airport or made alternative arrangements on their own, would also be taken care of.

“If you’ve already left, take care of yourself, do what you want to do for your family, and keep your receipts,” McVay said. “We will make sure they are taken care of, that is not a question.”

What is wrong from the pilot’s point of view

Speaking to CNN on Tuesday, Vice President of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association Captain Mike Santoro said N.J Problems Facing the Southwest It was the worst turbulence he had experienced at the airline in 16 years.

He described last week’s storm as a catalyst that helped create major technical problems.

“What’s gone wrong is that our IT infrastructure for program scheduling is greatly outdated,” he said. “It can’t handle the number of pilots, flight attendants in the system, with our complex road network.

“We don’t have the normal hub that other major airlines have. We fly a point-to-point network, which can put our crews in the wrong places, without planes.”

He added, “It’s frustrating for the pilots, flight attendants and especially our passengers. We’re tired of apologizing to Southwest, the airline pilots, our hearts go out to all the passengers, they really do.”

in other developments

Buffalo, New York, was particularly difficult due to a winter storm.

Buffalo, New York, was particularly difficult due to a winter storm.

JUID VIERA/AFP/Getty Images

• In western New York, the hardest hit, Buffalo International Airport She said in her most recent tweet that she does not plan to resume passenger flights before 11 a.m. ET Wednesday, delaying the expected reopening by another 24 hours after what was previously expected.
• Greyhound, the largest intercity bus service provider, issued a Service Alert On Tuesday morning, it reported that many of its scheduled services in the upper northeast portion of the service continued to be disrupted until further notice due to winter weather. Affected cities include Buffalo, Cleveland and Syracuse.

Andy Rose, Andy Papineau, Adrian Brodos, Dave Allsup, Nick Valencia, David Goldman, Leslie Pirro, Carlos Suarez, and Russ Levitt contributed to this story.