Southwest axes thousands of flights for Wednesday, Thursday

Weather

(NewsNation) — U.S. airline Southwest canceled thousands more flights Wednesday after scrubbing nearly 10,000 flights over the past 72 hours, and warned of thousands more Thursday and Friday, as most of the nation recovers from a deadly winter storm.

Flight tracking website FlightAware reported Southwest has removed another 2,500 flights for Wednesday and nearly 2,400 for Thursday as it tried to restore order to its mangled schedule.

According to FlightAware, more than 91% of all canceled flights in the U.S. early Wednesday were from Southwest.

On Tuesday, Southwest reported cancellations accounted for more than 80% of the 3,000 trips that got canceled nationwide Tuesday, including 70% of Monday’s flight cancellations according to the Associated Press.

The moves by rival carriers come after Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called on airlines to cap fares. “I’m encouraged to see several airlines have now committed to this step—all of them should,” he said.

On Tuesday, Delta Airlines implemented fare caps in all markets where Southwest operates through Jan. 2, The Wall Street Journal reported.

A United Airlines spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal that it also was “capping fares in select cities to make sure our flights are available to as many customers as possible.” A spokesperson for Frontier Airlines told The Wall Street Journal that it has capped its highest fares at “pre-disruption levels.”

Spirit Airlines waived modification charges and fare differences through Jan. 3 to and from more than a dozen cities including Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, according to a travel advisory posted to its website.

American Airlines tweeted, “We’re doing our part to help get people where they need to be and we’re putting a cap on fares for select cities.”

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said Tuesday that his agency intends to hold Southwest Airlines accountable for the travel disruptions and ensure that affected customers are made whole.

Southwest has said it is working with affected travelers to process refunds and assist with detours. “We have some real work to do in making this right. For now, I want you to know that we’re committed to that,” CEO Mr. Jordan said

This comes after the Transportation Department (DOT) tweeted it would examine “Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancellations” and whether the airline was meeting its legal obligation to help stranded customers Monday.

NewsNation contacted DOT for additional comments Tuesday who said, in part:

The Department will take action to hold Southwest accountable if it fails to fulfill its obligations and we will stay engaged with Southwest Airlines to make sure the airline does not allow a situation like this to happen again.

TRANSPORTATION Department

Southwest claims pilots and flight attendants were out of position to work their flights, but offered an apology statement Tuesday:

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.

Southwest airlines

Meanwhile, leaders of unions representing Southwest pilots and flight attendants blamed antiquated crew-scheduling software and criticized company management.

Southwest is not wrong. The severity of the storm created havoc for many airlines, although the largest number of canceled flights Tuesday were at airports where Southwest is a major carrier, including Denver, Chicago Midway, Las Vegas, Baltimore and Dallas.

Spirit Airlines and Alaska Airlines both canceled about 10% of their flights, with much smaller cancellation percentages at American, Delta, United and JetBlue.

In upstate New York, Buffalo Niagara International Airport — close to the epicenter of the storm — remained closed Tuesday.

The AP reports customers stood in long lines hoping to find a seat on another flight at airports with major Southwest operations; some even tried to rent cars to get to their destinations sooner while others found spots to sleep on the floor. Luggage piled up in huge heaps.

The DOT also told NewsNation that Secretary Buttigieg spoke with the CEO of Southwest Airlines and expressed he expects the airline to make amends and compensate its affected passengers accordingly by “providing meal vouchers, refunds, and hotel accommodations for those experiencing significant delays or cancelations that came about as a result of Southwest’s decisions and actions.”

The same goes for Southwest’s flight attendants and pilots, who were reportedly stranded alongside passengers.

The U.S. DOT tells NewsNation Buttigieg expects Southwest’s CEO “to do right by their pilots and flight attendants—and all their workers— in these situations.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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