Southwest Airlines disruption leaves customers stranded, call centers at a standstill

(CNN) – Last week’s wintry weather travel chaos is lingering like a hangover this week — and on Monday it was of migraine proportions for Southwest Airlines and its frustrated passengers.

More than 3,600 flights into or out of the U.S. had been canceled by 4:10 p.m. Monday, while nearly 5,800 flights were delayed, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.

But the Southwest has its fair share of them. No other US carrier has canceled nearly as many flights or schedules as Southwest.

The Dallas-based airline had canceled about two-thirds of its total flights — about 2,700 — as of 4:10 p.m. Monday, according to FlightAware. At one point, it canceled about 300 flights in half an hour on Monday afternoon.

Customers are complaining on social media Problems with long lines to speak to representatives, lost bags and excessive wait times, or busy signals on the airline’s customer service phone lines.

Customers wait to rebook a Southwest Airlines flight at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Monday.


CNN’s Carlos Suarez spoke with frustrated passengers at the Southwest ticket counter at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Monday.

He reports that at one point there were about 150 customers waiting in a long queue to rebook, and the queue was snaking behind the ticket counter.

‘Disruption across our network’

Southwest responded to the massive cancellations in an emailed statement Monday afternoon:

“With continued severe winter weather behind us on our network, the continued challenges are significantly impacting our customers and employees, which is unacceptable,” the statement said.

“We are leading the way with safety to urgently address a wide range of disruptions by reconfiguring the aircraft and transforming our flight crews and our fleet to better serve everyone who plans to travel with us.

“On the flip side, we’ll work to make things right for those we’ve let down, including our employees.”

In an earlier statement to CNN on Monday, Southwest Airlines said it was “experiencing disruptions across our network as a result of the lingering effects (of the winter storm) on the entirety of our operations.”

Denver, Las Vegas, Chicago Midway, Baltimore/Washington and Southwest’s Dallas Love Field are some of the airports seeing the biggest problem.

Customers faced long lines at Southwest counters Monday at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

Customers faced long lines at Southwest counters Monday at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.


Calls to Southwest’s customer service did not go through CNN Monday afternoon, so customers were unable to get in line to speak with a representative. Southwest told CNN the company is “fully staffed to respond to calls.”

The airline adds, “Those whose flights have been canceled can claim a full refund or get a flight credit, which will not expire.”

A Tweet There were more than 870 responses from Southwest directing customers to self-service options — many of them angry — as of 4:30 p.m. ET.

A partial response: “Stop blaming the weather! Had to buy a first class ticket on another airline but it was canceled on time! You still have our luggage with the medicine! Can’t get through on the phone!”

Meanwhile, in hard-hit western New York, Buffalo International Airport plans to resume passenger flights at 11 a.m. Tuesday, according to its latest tweet.

The temperature at the airport was 19 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 7 Celsius) around 4 p.m. ET, the lightest snowfall the area had already seen.

What can stranded passengers do?

If you’re frustrated and your attempts to reach a customer service agent go nowhere, Scott’s Cheap Flights founder suggests trying an international number.

“The main hotline for US airlines is clogged with other passengers being rebooked. Call any of the airline’s dozens of international offices to get an agent quickly,” said Scott Keyes.

“Agents can handle your booking just like US-based ones, but there’s no need to wait to receive it.”

Any relief in sight?

It may take the next week or so to fully heal.

“With more than 10,000 flight cancellations in the past week, it will take time for airlines to adjust and re-accommodate the backlog of passengers,” Keyes told CNN Travel in an email.

“Depending on the weather forecast (which looks promising for much of the country) and how many travelers cancel their vacation plans, I expect that by next week, things will mostly be back to normal,” Keyes said.

Why do so many people have trouble resubscribing?

“A complicating factor for people looking for re-accommodation is that there are very few seats available this season,” Keyes said.

“Christmas and New Year are among the most popular times for travel, and the number of flights on the schedule this year is down another 15-20%, making the challenge even steeper for those who need to rebook. .”

Poor road conditions

Road travel remained treacherous in parts of the United States due to bitterly cold weather.

In New York state’s western Erie County, emergency driving restrictions were lifted in some communities but remained in place in Buffalo, County Executive Mark Bollengarz said Monday.

“The city of Buffalo is impassable in most areas, and while the mains may have a lane or two for emergency traffic, most secondary and side streets are still untouched,” Bollencarz said.

He added that the main roads that were cleared were primarily to use life-saving measures to reopen areas around hospitals and nursing homes.

Last week was tough

A winter storm that swept across the U.S. was bad timing for travelers as Christmas week began to push flying numbers back toward pre-pandemic levels.

On Christmas Day, 3,178 flights were canceled and 6,870 were delayed, according to FlightAware.

A total of 3,487 flights were canceled on Christmas Eve, according to FlightAware.

Friday was the series’ worst day with 5,934 cancellations, while Thursday saw almost 2,700 cancellations.

This megablast of wintry weather is forecast to slowly moderate this week across the eastern two-thirds of the country.

There are many more developments to come on this breaking news story.

CNN’s Ross Levitt, Chris Boyette and Artemis Moshtaghian contributed to this story.

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