The United States Department of Transportation has said that it plans to examine mass flight cancellations and delays by Southwest Airlines in recent days, amid a devastating storm that has disrupted travel plans for millions of Americans during the holiday season.
The government agency said it would look to determine if the flight cancellations by Southwest — which in particular has faced flak from passengers online — were in the airline’s control, calling them “unacceptable”.
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“USDOT is concerned by Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays and 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,” the Transportation Department tweeted.
A powerful winter storm resulted in airlines cancelling thousands of flights over the long Christmas weekend. At least 48 people have died as large parts of the US battle frigid conditions.
Southwest declined to comment on the USDOT statement but pointed to a statement it issued earlier offering “heartfelt apologies” and said “with consecutive days of extreme winter weather across our network behind us, continuing challenges are impacting our customers and employees in a significant way that is unacceptable”.
As of 22:00 ET, Southwest has preemptively canceled 2,746 flights (68.7% of its schedule) tomorrow and 2,475 on Wednesday (61.9%). Southwest cancellations jumped due to the onset of storms across the US on 22 Dec, but the operational effects continue to be felt. pic.twitter.com/fry7ioqFol
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) December 27, 2022
According to the flight tracking website FlightAware, Southwest Airlines has cancelled 2,746 flights or nearly 69 percent of its schedule on Tuesday, with 2,475 flights due to be scrapped on Wednesday.
The airline added it was working “to urgently address wide-scale disruption by rebalancing the airline and repositioning crews and our fleet ultimately to best serve all who plan to travel with us”.
Other major US airlines suffered significant cancellations in recent days but not nearly at as high rates as Southwest and they have now largely recovered.
Frustrated passengers took to social media to vent their anger, with many recognising that the airline’s own employees – while at the front line – are overworked and short-staffed.
Praying for Southwest Airlines employees and staff because you know how disruptive inconvenient and entitled people can be. Frontline workers always gotta take the sword while the executives relax in comfort
— Chris. (@chefmade_92) December 27, 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
Passengers flying through the Baltimore Washington International (BWI) airport on Southwest were told that the earliest they could fly out is December 31, or New Year’s Eve.
“Yikes, @SouthwestAir! This is clearly a meltdown,” said former Transportation Security Administration (TSA) official Ross Feinstein on Twitter.
US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg simply tweeted: “I’m tracking closely & will have more to say about this tomorrow.”