Southwest Airlines was forced to apologize to thousands of passengers who were left stranded when it cancelled or delayed at least 34 per cent of its flight schedule on Saturday. By 3 pm (EST), the airline had cancelled around 462 flights and delayed a further 652 services according to flight-tracking website Flight Aware.
In a statement, Southwest blamed the disruption on “disruptive weather” as well as unspecified air traffic control problems. The airline warned that it would take the rest of the weekend to recover its operation and that wait times to get through to customer service telephone lines were longer than normal.
“We appreciate your patience as we accommodate affected customers,” Southwest said in a tweet as it appealed to affected passengers to look for rebooking options via its website. Some customers took to Twitter to complain that there weren’t any available flights until Monday at the earliest.
“Bad weather issues?” commented Justin Lindy. “Then why aren’t any other major airlines having this issue. What a joke. Great way to ruining a start of a vacation,” Lindy complained in a tweet to Southwest.
“This is not an ATC issue!!” wrote Carrie Polidan. “Stop lying Southwest! Family flew out just fine on Jet Blue (sic). Was told it’s lack of a crew when I called and no way home til Monday. Unacceptable!!!”
And Grace Ann Hogan complained that after her flight was cancelled, she then had to wait three hours for her luggage to be returned.
It turns out that bad weather in the north on Monday evening has had a knock-on effect and Southwest has found itself with aircraft and crews out of position. Problems have been made worse by air traffic control staff shortages in some locations, although the FAA is reporting no ATC delays at major airports.
A similar issue hit Spirit Airlines in August and problems soon spiralled out of control forcing the airline to scrub thousands of flights as it struggled to recover its operation.
Southwest’s flight attendant union has been complaining for months about being overworked and warned they were “exhausted” and close to “breaking point” after the airline packed its schedule to take advantage of a boom in travel demand.
The airline has apologized to staff for putting a “significant strain” on them over the summer and has cut back its schedule through the next few months. On Friday, Southwest said it would pay for a DoorDash subscription service for all active crew so they can have food delivered to their hotel rooms after long duty days.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.