HOUSTON — Southwest Airlines is under fire after thousands of flights were canceled or delayed during the Christmas holiday, leaving thousands of people, and their bags, stranded in airports across the U.S.
Shortly before 8 p.m. Monday, the airline canceled more than 2,882, or about 70%, of all flights, according to FlightAware. That's a big increase from Christmas Day when FlightAware reported 1,635 Southwest flights canceled, or about 42%.
Since Christmas Eve, Southwest pointed to the winter storm that swept the U.S. last week as the reason for the travel disruptions.
On Monday, the airline released a statement sending its "heartfelt apologies" and said it's working "to make things right" for customers and its employees. Read the full statement below.
"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.
"And our heartfelt apologies for this are just beginning.
"We’re working with Safety at the forefront 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.
"We were fully staffed and prepared for the approaching holiday weekend when the severe weather swept across the continent, where Southwest is the largest carrier in 23 of the top 25 travel markets in the U.S. This forced daily changes to our flight schedule at a volume and magnitude that still has the tools our teams use to recover the airline operating at capacity.
"This safety-first work is intentional, ongoing, and necessary to return to normal reliability, one that minimizes last-minute inconveniences. We anticipate additional changes with an already reduced level of flights as we approach the coming New Year holiday travel period. And we’re working to reach to Customers whose travel plans will change with specific information and their available options.
"Our Employees and Crews scheduled to work this holiday season are showing up in every single way. We are beyond grateful for that. Our shared goal is to take care of every single Customer with the Hospitality and Heart for which we’re known.
"On the other side of this, we’ll work to make things right for those we’ve let down, including our Employees.
"With no concern higher than ultimate Safety, the People of Southwest share a goal to take care of each and every Customer. We recognize falling short and sincerely apologize."
Southwest Airlines announced Monday over an intercome speaker at Hobby Airport that the airline would not be able to rebook any flights until December 31.
"If you have flexible travel plans or you're local to the Houston area, we ask that you return home. If you would like to purchase a hotel room or you need to rent a car, we ask that you keep your receipts. Southwest Airlines will reimburse those costs."
The City of Houston has provided buses to transport people stranded at the airport to hotels if they don't have a ride.
Weather or staffing?
“This is the worst I’ve ever seen in my 27 years of working as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines," Lyn Montgomery said.
She's president of TWU Local 556 -- the union representing 18,000 Southwest Airlines flight attendants.
“No, it isn’t just weather. Obviously, the impact of Winter Storm Elliott created the issues, but the Southwest Airlines systems cannot recover because we have outdated technology," she said.
Montgomery said the technology flight attendants use to reschedule flights relies on a phone system that gets overloaded.
“You simply can’t make enough phone calls. You can’t make thousands of phone calls at once," she said.
Jay McVay, a representative for Southwest Airlines, said it was not a staffing issue, but an operational one following the winter storm.
“The cancellations just compiled one after another, to 100, to 150, to 1,000 with those cancellations and as a result, we end up with flight crews and airplanes that are out of place, not in the cities they need to be in to continue to run our operation," he said.
But with sunny skies in Houston, it’s frustrating for customers who want to know why Southwest isn’t bouncing back like other airlines. KHOU 11 asked if that crew scheduling system needs to be re-evaluated.
“I don’t know if it needs to be re-evaluated as much as it does ensuring that there is the availability of people to answer those calls quicker and get the crews re-accommodated quicker," McVay said.
The U.S. Department of Transportation said it will now look into what’s happening with Southwest. According to FlightAware, the airline has already canceled 60% of its flights on Tuesday.