Southwest Airlines disruptions result in more than 2,000 flight cancellations, stranded passengers at Chicago Midway Airport

CHICAGO – Southwest Airlines, the FAA and union leaders all give different explanations as to why more than 2,000 Southwest flights were canceled over the weekend.

The airline canceled at least 360 new flights on Monday. There have been more than 1,000 delays, accounting for more than a quarter of the airline’s schedule and leaving frustrated passengers stranded at airports.

“I am trapped,” said a passenger.

SEE ALSO | Southwestern Flight Delay Information

Another passenger said his flight was canceled when he was already at the boarding gate and checked his baggage. Another said he discovered that there were no hotel rooms or cars available.

These cancellations have forced many people to take time off work, vacations, and even crucial medical appointments. Fabricia Amara has described what the missed flight to her 14-year-old daughter’s neurosurgery appointment could mean.

SEE ALSO | South West Customer Service Policy

“They told me you had to come here, otherwise it’s next year,” Amara said.

Passenger Chris Jewell is urgently trying to get home, noting the need to return to work and care for the children, adding “we need to make plans”.

The company blamed the cancellations on air traffic control issues and limited staff in Florida as well as bad weather. He told CNN on Sunday evening that the return to normal operations was “more difficult and prolonged” because of the schedule and staff cuts made during the pandemic.

“We continued to work diligently throughout the weekend to reset our operations with a focus on repositioning aircraft and crews to care for our customers,” the airline said in a statement.

In a statement, the Federal Aviation Administration said there had been no air traffic-related cancellations since Friday. The agency said airlines are experiencing delays due to the movement of planes and crews.

“Flight delays and cancellations occurred for a few hours Friday afternoon due to widespread extreme weather conditions, military training and limited personnel in an area of ​​the Jacksonville air traffic control center.” , said the FAA.

However, other airlines did not appear to be as badly affected by these issues. American Airlines canceled 2% of its flights on Sunday, and budget Spirit Airlines also canceled 2%, according to FlightAware.

In a statement released Monday afternoon, Southwest said “weather” and “other external constraints” were the main causes of flight cancellations which “left planes and crews out of pre-planned positions to operate. our Saturday schedule “.

“The operational challenges were not the result of protests by Southwest employees,” the airline added.

Southwest said it experienced less disruption on Monday and “hoped to restore [their] full program as soon as possible. “

Southwest canceled 808 flights on Saturday, stranding thousands of passengers across the country. Queues of customers from the Southwest have piled up at airports, like Chicago’s Midway, as they try to get answers as to why their flights were canceled.

“We had to find a hotel, the Ubers, food, etc. Nothing was ever promised. They didn’t give us anything,” said Lisa Harmon.

“I need to be reimbursed. I need to be told, ‘We’re sorry,'” added Brett Yeates.

Videos and images posted on social media show customers in the Southwest stand in long lines winding through airports in Denver, new York, Missouri and Arizona. Travelers to Chicago, Houston and other major US cities have reported similar unrest.

A man ABC7 spoke with missed his sister’s wedding, where he was supposed to walk her down the aisle.

“I was playing an important role so it really touches me,” said Kerence Jackson Sr.

“We are heartbroken. It’s devastating. You can’t do this again,” his wife added. “Most of the time, if they have things going, at least they’re trying to delay you. It was just canceled – like they knew it was going to happen.”

Some people also said they were missing their bags. One group said some of their luggage was sent to an airport, but was booked for another destination.

Marye Cory was scheduled to fly from Oklahoma City to Orlando on Sunday morning for a cruise. At 3 a.m., she saw that her flight had been canceled and spent more than eight hours on the phone with customer service.

Cory said she spent over $ 400 and used 20,000 credit card points on a United flight that will depart on the morning of her cruise. She also lost money on an AirBnb booked in Orlando and had to revamp childcare.

“I have flown with Southwest over 200 times and have always been very satisfied with their customer service,” said Cory. “I hope they will sort this out.”

After nine hours of trying to get a flight to Dallas on Saturday, Rhonda Hubbard said she and her grandson were unable to collect their bags. Two days later, they are still missing two bags.

“My flight was canceled,” Hubbard said. “How does your luggage leave if your flight is canceled?” “

Hubbard, a health care supervisor, was trying to take her first vacation since the pandemic began to see her family.

“When I’m at my job, patients don’t care that I don’t have a staff,” Hubbard said. “I have to make it work and I have to continue to be professional about it, so I expect the same things.”

DePaul University transport expert Joe Schwieterman called the situation “one of the worst crises in the southwest in modern memory”, noting that the airline did not give “a very good explanation. of why this is happening “.

Don Howard says his southwest Sunday flight from LA was delayed until Monday, costing him hundreds of dollars in unforeseen hotel and food expenses. He said he and his fiance got their bags back, but one was damaged.

“Our flight attendant, they were helping us… She was a wonderful woman, very accommodating on a bumpy flight,” Howard said. “Other than that, Southwest doesn’t get any passing marks.”

Royal Travel & Tours chairman Kendra Thornton said she advises clients to travel nonstop when possible to avoid getting stuck and paying additional expenses.

“Unfortunately, the traveler is a bit out of his pocket on these expenses even when their flight is canceled due to airlines,” Thornton said. “Universally, when a flight is canceled, people should know that they are entitled to a full refund of the price of that ticket.”

Last week, the airline announced a vaccination warrant for employees, fueling speculation the weekend delays may have been caused by a pilot leaving.

FOLLOWING: Employees in the southwest must be fully immunized by December 8 to keep their jobs, company says

“Southwest Airlines must join our industry peers in complying with the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination directive,” Gary Kelly, chief executive officer of Southwest Airlines said in a statement. “I encourage all Southwest employees to comply with the federal directive as quickly as possible, because we value every individual and want to ensure job security for all.”

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association claimed the cancellations were due to “management’s poor planning.” CNN has contacted SWAPA for comment.
“SWAPA is aware of the operational difficulties affecting Southwest Airlines today due to a number of issues, but we can say with certainty that our pilots are not participating in any official or unofficial action,” the union said in a statement. communicated.

Southwest has had a difficult year. The airline had the worst punctuality performance and the highest percentage of canceled flights from any of the country’s four major airlines in June and July, according to the flight tracking service Cirium. Passengers aren’t the only ones unhappy with Southwest: The pilots, flight attendants and mechanics unions have all complained about the airline’s operations.

Southwest has promised to fix the problems by scheduling fewer flights in the fall.

“To any Southwest customer whose trip with us did not meet their expectations this summer, we extend our sincere apologies,” said a statement from Kelly. “We are confident that these adjustments will create a more reliable travel experience.”

The airline said the changed schedule affected operations this weekend.

“With fewer frequencies between cities in our current schedule, recovery during operational challenges is more difficult and prolonged,” Southwest said in a statement.

WLS contributed to this report

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