Flight attendants at Southwest Airlines say that over the last few days, some of them have been waiting on hold on the telephone for more than 10 hours to get through the airline’s crew scheduling department.
While passengers have also been facing excruciatingly long hold times to get through to Southwest’s reservation and customer services agents, long hold times for flight attendants have a direct impact on operations because displaced crew need to be resigned to new flights.
But as other airlines begin to recover some of their operations from the severe weather that swept the United States in the run-up to the Christmas getaway, the operational meltdown at Southwest shows no sign of abating.
On Christmas Day, the airline scrapped around 735 flights, but this situation is expected to be even worse on December 26. According to the flight tracking website Flight Aware, cancellations at Southwest have soared to 2,395 on Monday, representing nearly 60 per cent of the airline’s schedule.
Southwest, however, has effectively stopped counting how many flights have been cancelled, saying the “very dynamic situation” that was gripping the airline’s operations prevented it from sharing specific numbers.
The problem for Southwest now isn’t necessarily the weather but the fact that aircraft and aircrew are out of position. In some cases, flight attendants need to get through to the scheduling department to be reassigned to new flights or to find out about a delay situation, but it appears that the team is overloaded with requests.
Lyn Montgomery, the president of the TWU 556 union which represents flight attendants at Southwest, said her members were being subjected to “insane working conditions” as a result of the carrier’s operational meltdown.
Rather than celebrating Christmas Day, Montgomery was taking to Twitter to share screenshots of how long they had been on hold to get through to crew scheduling. In one case, a crew member had been waiting for nearly eight hours, although other sources say hold times have been exceeding 10 hours for some flight attendants.
Montgomery said that as well as needing to get through to scheduling to find out about reassignments, flight attendants also needed to speak to the scheduling team to report illegalities and get information about hotels when their flights had been cancelled.
A spokesperson for Southwest admitted that some flight attendants were experiencing long hold times but denied knowledge of wait times of 10+ hours. The airline says it has been “uniquely affected” by Storm Elliott due to its structure and in a statement, a spokesperson said the airline was still working to recover its operation.
Flight attendants at American Airlines and United have previously complained about unacceptable wait times to reach their own crew scheduling departments, although crew at these carriers don’t seem to be experiencing the same problems as flight attendants at Southwest.
On Monday, United had proactively cancelled around 3 per cent of its schedule, while American Airlines had axed just nine scheduled flights. Delta is coping less well, having cancelled nearly 250 flights on Monday. A spokesperson said a small number of these cancellations were down to crew displacement issues.
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.