The company has canceled roughly 16,000 flights since last Friday, leaving thousands of customers and crew members stranded during the busy holiday travel season.
The Department of Transportation is now investigating the cancelations and whether Southwest could have done more to avoid them.
For the first time in about a week, Southwest flight cancelations are below 50%.
According to the flight-tracking website Flight Aware, there were fewer than a dozen flights stuck on the tarmac on New Year’s Eve.
It’s a dramatic turn of events that started just before the Christmas holiday when more than 15,000 of Southwest’s flights were canceled — including more than 2,300 that were canceled this past Thursday — almost a week after bad weather combined with outdated scheduling software left hundreds of thousands of customers on their own to rebook.
Many of those whose flights got canceled were forced to pay last-minute premium rates for flights on other carriers or for car rentals.
“There will be a lot of lessons learned that come out of this,” Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said. “We already had a great plan to invest in tools and technology and processes as we always do, but there will be a lot of lessons learned in terms of what we can do to make sure this never happens again.”
But an apology may not be enough for Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who intends to launch an investigation.
Buttigieg posted a message on social media Saturday saying, “Southwest airlines failed its customers this past week, and our department will continue action to get travelers what they are owed. This comes as we conclude a very active year of work and results in aviation consumer protection.”
It may take time before it’s clear if this hit to Southwest’s reputation is a one-off or a wound that is here to stay.
The airline industry, among other skilled trade sectors, has suffered from a labor shortage for several years. But the lockdowns during the pandemic led to a sharp decline in demand for flights. That quickly rebounded, starting in the summer, and airlines, by their own admission, have not been able to hire and train quickly enough.
Southwest has told customers to submit claims online for expenses such as hotel rooms, new plane tickets and rental cars. But what if customers had to buy new clothes, or if they missed work and wages? The airline said they will look at passengers’ extenuating circumstances on a case-by-case basis.