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As South West flight cancellations continue, Buttigieg pledges to hold airline accountable


WASHINGTON DC — Relief is still days away for passengers booked with Southwest Airlines this week as the beleaguered airline continues to battle what US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called a complete system collapse.

Of the 2,770 cancellations already made for Wednesday flights within, to or from the United States as of 9 a.m. ET, 2,507 of them are operated by Southwest, according to the flight tracking website. FlightAware.

In total, Southwest has canceled more than 15,700 flights since winter weather began to disrupt air travel on Dec. 22. This figure includes more than 2,300 flights already canceled for Thursday. Other US airlines have since recovered from the disruption caused by the storm.

Denver International Airport leads Wednesday in the number of cancellations. At Chicago Midway and Dallas Love Field, nearly half of Wednesday flights are canceled.

Southwest plans to fly on a reduced schedule over the next few days to reposition crew and aircraft, airline CEO Bob Jordan said in a video released by the airline on Tuesday evening. “We’re optimistic to be back on track before next week,” Jordan said.

Buttigieg says he spoke directly to Jordan on Tuesday about the thousands of flights that were canceled this week.

“Their system has really completely melted,” Buttigieg told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday.

“I have clarified that our department will hold them accountable to their responsibilities to customers, both to help them through this situation and to ensure it does not happen again.”

Tuesday in brief

More than 3,200 flights within, to or from the United States were canceled on Tuesday, according to FlightAware.

Of those canceled flights, some 2,694 were those in the Southwest, or 84% of all canceled flights in the United States.

Long lines of travelers trying to book or make connections were seen at Southwest counters at several US airports on Tuesday, while huge piles of unclaimed bags continued to grow as passengers struggled to collect baggage at airports including Chicago’s Midway International, Harry Reid in Las Vegas and William P. Hobby Airport in Houston.

Passenger Trisha Jones told CNN at Atlanta airport that she and her partner had been traveling for five days, trying to get home to Wichita, Kansas after disembarking from a cruise in Fort Lauderdale, Florida .

After her flight was canceled, she stayed with relatives, then was rerouted to Atlanta to catch a connecting flight.

“We were lucky, because we were in Fort Lauderdale — my family lives in the Tampa Bay area, so we were able to rent a car to go see my family for Christmas,” Jones said. “We saw a lot of families sleeping on the floor, and it breaks my heart.”

Buttigieg: “A lot of cleaning to do”

Southwest blamed the travel disaster on several factors, including winter storm delays, aggressive flight schedules and outdated infrastructure.

“From what I can tell, Southwest is unable to locate even where its own crews are, let alone its own passengers, let alone its baggage,” Buttigieg said, adding that he also spoke with airline union leaders representing flight attendants and pilots.

The secretary said he told CEO Jordan that he expects Southwest to proactively offer refunds and expense reimbursements to affected passengers without them having to ask.

“I have communicated to the CEO our expectation that they will go above and beyond to take care of the passengers and resolve this issue,” he said.

Buttigieg told CNN the Department of Transportation is prepared to issue fines to Southwest if the company is found to have failed to meet its legal obligations, but added that the department will take a closer look at service issues. regular airline customers.

“While every other part of the aviation system is heading towards recovery and getting better every day, it’s actually going in the opposite direction with this airline,” Buttigieg said.

“You have a business here that has a lot of cleaning to do,” he said.

Southwest CEO posts video apology

Jordan apologized to passengers and employees in the video released Tuesday evening.

“We are doing everything we can to get back to normal operation, and please also hear that I’m so sorry,” Jordan said.

He said that with large numbers of planes and flight crew “out of position” in dozens of cities, the airline decided to “dramatically reduce our flights to catch up.”

Although Jordan acknowledged problems with the company’s response, the statement suggested that he did not anticipate massive changes to Southwest’s operating plans in response to the massive cancellations.

“The tools we use to recover from a disruption serve us well 99% of the time, but clearly we need to double down on our already existing plans to upgrade systems for these extreme circumstances so that we never face again. to what’s going on right now,” Jordan said.

Is there anything passengers can do?

Southwest warned that this week’s cancellations and delays are expected to continue for several days.

So what should customers do?

“First of all, travelers who are still waiting on Southwest and need to get somewhere should try to book a flight with another airline as soon as possible…right now, really,” said Kyle Potter, editor. in chief of the travel council. Thrifty Traveler website, in an email to CNN Travel late Tuesday afternoon.

“Every airline in the country is packed right now, so your chances of even finding a seat — let alone at a half-decent price — go down by the hour,” Potter said.

“Travelers at the heart of it all need to be sure to keep all of their receipts: other flights, a rental car, hotel nights, meals, whatever,” Potter said.

If you’ve been abandoned and your efforts to reach a customer service agent are going nowhere, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights suggests trying an international number.

“The US airlines’ main hotline will be jammed with other passengers rebooking. To quickly reach an agent, call any of the airline’s dozens of international offices,” Scott said. Keyes.

“Agents can handle your booking like those based in the US, but there’s virtually no waiting to get through.”

Click here for the international numbers that Southwest has already published.

Southwest: “Keep your receipts”

Southwest spokesman Jay McVay told a press conference at William P. Hobby Airport in Houston on Monday evening that the airline will do everything possible to address the challenges faced by passengers, including “hotels, transportation assistance, vans … rental cars to try to make sure these people get home as quickly as possible.”

He promised that all customers, even those who had already left the airport or made alternative arrangements on their own, would also be taken care of.

“If you’ve already left, take care of yourself, do what you need to do for your family, keep your receipts,” McVay relayed. “We’ll make sure they’re taken care of, that’s not a question.”

What’s wrong from a pilot’s point of view

Speaking to CNN on Tuesday, Southwest Airlines Pilots Association Vice President Captain Mike Santoro said the problems facing Southwest were the worst disruption he had seen in 16 years with the airline. .

He described last week’s storm as a catalyst that helped trigger major technical issues.

“What has gone wrong is that our IT infrastructure for scheduling software is largely outdated,” he said. “It can’t handle the number of pilots, flight attendants that we have in the system, with our complex route network.

“We don’t have the normal hub of other major airlines. We operate a point-to-point network, which can put our crews in the wrong place, without planes.”

He added: “It’s frustrating for the pilots, the flight attendants and especially our passengers. We are tired of apologizing to Southwest, the airline pilots, our thoughts are with all the passengers, they do really.”

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