Not everyone got a white Christmas this year, but pretty much everyone did get a cold one. The Arctic chill that swept across the country left thousands without power, and (according to Southwest Airlines) was responsible for thousands of canceled flights as well.
The airline canceled over 2,900 flights on Monday alone, as well as 2,500 for Tuesday and many well into Wednesday too. That’s between 60% to 70% of its overall daily flight schedules. But while Southwest blamed the weather for the meltdown, other airlines did not experience similar issues.
50% of all flights canceled around the world today were Southwest flights. All airlines in the US are struggling with the winter storm, but only Southwest just fell completely apart https://t.co/dGOwrwPYT3 pic.twitter.com/Liaobah7pN
— Jake Swearingen (@JakeSwearingen) December 26, 2022
In fact, 50% of all canceled flights on Monday were on Southwest. Delta canceled a mere 262 flights in comparison, followed by United with 133 and then American with only 12 (though they did have nearly 800 delays). Many are calling the implosion at Southwest one of the biggest travel debacles in history, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.
I asked the president of the Southwest Airlines flight attendant union how last few days compares in terms of flight disruptions:
“With the exception of September 11, this is one of the most horrific days that Southwest Airlines flight attendants have ever had to work through.” https://t.co/lifcWRO6Rb
— Brett Forrest (@brettforrest89) December 27, 2022
The company’s hotline reportedly had a five hour plus wait, which mirrored times customers waited in line to speak to a gate agent as well.
USDOT says it’ll review Southwest’s “unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays.” People in the front of this SW cancellation line Monday in Milwaukee said they were waiting 5 hours. A woman on hold with the airline showed a 6-hour call in progress.pic.twitter.com/1JSZ3qEeVn
— Jason Calvi (@JasonCalvi) December 27, 2022
Here is the video of the intercom announcement.
Speaker says staffing issues have led to the cancelation of 90% of Sky Harbor Southwest flights. They say they cannot get anyone out for the next 4 days. https://t.co/eULewj44Zm pic.twitter.com/fnlay8sBw5
— Michael Doudna (@MichaelDoudna) December 26, 2022
#SOUTHWEST NIGHTMARE: All flights leaving San Diego tonight are canceled, announcement just now over the intercom says the airline is “frozen and not able to assist with rebooking.” People are told find their bags in these piles. Several are in tears. @10News pic.twitter.com/cpUfblhV5t
— Laura Acevedo (@10NewsAcevedo) December 27, 2022
Southwest is blaming the weather for the situation. But that can’t explain it all, given that other airlines experienced nowhere near the same amount of problems. What’s more, it conveniently seems meant to get the airline out of its obligations to consumers. Most airlines provide hotel accommodations and other travel vouchers for delays—except for when they’re caused by weather or other “acts of God.”
Using this excuse may help Southwest get out of paying for the needs of the people it is stranding across the country. (Although they’re saying you can submit expenses to them and they’ll honor “reasonable requests.”) And since few can even get through to a representative for assistance, their only real option is to bite the bullet and cough up a pretty penny to book last-minute on another airline.
2,500+ more cancellations today from Southwest, so I had to buy flights on *two different airlines* to get home.
I have 5 friends who are having to drive home because they didn’t want to spend THOUSANDS on new flights 💸
Let’s try this again… pic.twitter.com/dHYNWCQ8ZJ
— Chase Cain (@ChaseCainNBC) December 27, 2022
But while the company seems to be less than forthcoming on its internal problems, a Reddit thread filled with (self-identified) staff of the airline is spilling the tea. In part, they explained the collapse as due to outdated technological issues the company had neglected.
One anonymous employee wrote on Reddit: “This shitstorm is because the crew scheduling software went belly up and it almost all has to be unraveled over the phone with crew members calling scheduling. If we had better technology which eliminated the need for phone calls, this would have been fixed by now.”
Southwest employees are sharing as much as they know on a sub reddit trying to help people. pic.twitter.com/Y0HgTVNc8r
— Britt Williams (@_brittwilliams_) December 27, 2022
And a union representing their flight attendants has also spoken out while pointing to the real cause of the disruption, “years of neglect to technological improvements that would fix operational issues.”
Southwest Airlines flight attendants represented by TWI Local 556 call out the airline company for massive cancellations that are also leaving flight attendants stranded and blame years of neglect to technological improvements that would fix operational issues pic.twitter.com/EpPe0ICr59
— Michael Sainato (@msainat1) December 27, 2022
In response to the disaster, the Department of Transportation announced it will launch an investigation into the matter.
USDOT is concerned by Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays & reports of lack of prompt customer service. The Department will examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan.
— TransportationGov (@USDOT) December 27, 2022
It’s important to mention here that a free market hasn’t been seen in the airline industry in decades. Rather, we consistently bail them out with taxpayer dollars, regulate the industry to the point it’s almost impossible for new competition to spring up, and our government sets up policies that typically favor the companies over the consumers. Most airlines should have been allowed to fail a long time ago.
The news I'm hearing from Floridians about canceled flights, ruined plans & total lack of communication from @SouthwestAir is unacceptable. Southwest received BILLIONS from taxpayers & we need answers:
What's your plan to help customers quickly get home/refunds/vouchers? https://t.co/5lx42Zdqr0
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) December 27, 2022
Given the current conditions, it is worth demanding answers on behalf of taxpayers. If they’re going to give our tax dollars to these companies we shouldn’t be left with the bill when they screw up.
We need a free market on the ground and in the skies. But in the meantime, we need accountability and reparations when a government-backed company messes up at this scale.