Southwest Airlines canceled thousands more flights early Thursday as the beleaguered carrier struggled to recover from a massive winter storm, raised questions about its preparedness and drawn scrutiny in Washington, D.C.
As of 9:47 a.m. Eastern time Southwest had scrubbed more than 2,360 flights, or 58% of the airline’s daily scheduled trips, according to Flight Aware. Overall, data from the tracking service shows the airline has scrapped more than 15,000 flights over the past week, leading to chaos at Southwest facilities around the U.S. and forcing CEO Robert Jordan to apologize.
Exhausted Southwest travelers tried finding seats on other airlines or renting cars to get to their destination, but many remained stranded. People described waiting hours on the phone seeking help. Others found spots to sleep on the floor. Luggage piled up in huge heaps.
And their troubles may not be over — Jordan on Wednesday said it could be next week before the airline’s flight schedule returns to normal.
Adontis Barber, a 34-year-old jazz pianist from Kansas City, Missouri, had camped out in the city’s airport since his Southwest flight was canceled Saturday, hoping to reach a New Year’s gig in Washington, D.C.
He left his airport vigil Wednesday. “I give up,” he said. “I’m starting to feel homeless.”
“We’ve let our customers and employees down”
Southwest’s problems began over the weekend after snow, icy temperatures and howling winds slammed the Southeast and other U.S. regions. By Monday, the airline had already called off most of its flights.
Another Southwest executive issued a video apology Wednesday, highlighting new features on the company’s website where affected travelers can go to rebook flights, request refunds and submit information on missing bags.
Ryan Green, Southwest’s chief commercial officer, said in a video posted to Twitter on Thursday that “we’ve let our customers and employees down, and we pledge to do everything we can to make it right.”
Along with blaming the weather, Southwest executives have acknowledged that many pilots and flight attendants were out of position to work their flights. Leaders of unions representing Southwest pilots and flight attendants also pointed to antiquated crew-scheduling software.
Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said the airline failed to fix problems that caused a similar meltdown in October 2021. He said managers resorted this week to asking pilots at some airports to report to a central location, where they wrote down the names of those who were present and forwarded the lists to headquarters.
In an interview with CBS News Streaming, U.S. Captain Michael Santoro, vice president of the labor group, described Southwest’s scheduling software as “outdated” and said it was unable to handle the flood of passenger flight cancellations caused by the winter storm. The system also failed to process the reassignments of Southwest crew as the company tried to reschedule flights, he added.
“You get this snowball effect where it can’t keep track of where pilots are, flight attendants are and airplanes are,” Santoro said.
Southwest’s woes are likely to go beyond repairing its relationship with passengers. The Senate Commerce Committee has promised an investigation, while two Senate Democrats called on Southwest to provide “significant” compensation for stranded travelers.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg also said his agency would examine the causes of Southwest’s widespread cancellations and whether the airline was meeting its legal obligations to stranded customers. In an interview with ABC News on Wednesday, he said “we are past the point where they could say this is a weather-driven issue,” calling the airline’s problems a “system failure.”
For weary Southwest customers, however, tomorrow may bring hope. According to FlightAware, the airline so far has canceled only 39 flights scheduled for Friday.
—CBS News’ Alain Sherter contributed reporting.