The South West comes under scrutiny after a spate of storm cancellations


Major U.S. airlines were broadly dispersed by the weekend’s massive winter storm that swept across much of the country but had largely recovered to all but one by Tuesday.

Southwest Airlines’ problems appeared to be worsening after the worst of the storm passed. It canceled more than 70% of its flights on Monday, more than 60% on Tuesday, and warned it would operate just over a third of its usual flight schedule in the coming days to allow crews to get back to where they need to be .

American, United, Delta and JetBlue all suffered cancellation rates ranging from zero to 2% through Tuesday.

The disparity has led to a closer scrutiny of operations in the Southwest from the US Department of Transportation, which called the cancellation rate “disproportionate and unacceptable” and wanted to ensure the Dallas-based airline met its obligations to stranded customers.

The size and severity of the storm caused chaos among airlines. Airports were overwhelmed by intense snowfall and drifts. Airlines canceled up to 20% of their flights on Saturday and Sunday, and Buffalo Niagara International Airport, near the storm’s epicenter, will remain closed on Tuesday.

However, it has become clear that Southwest is suffering from disproportionate disruption. Of the approximately 2,950 flight cancellations in the United States as of Tuesday noon, 2,549 were canceled by Southwest.

Southwest spokesman Jay McVay said at a news conference in Houston that the cancellations snowballed as storm systems moved across the country, leaving flight crews and planes out of place.

“So we’ve been chasing our tails and trying to catch up and get back to normal safely, which is our top priority, as soon as we can,” he said. “And that’s exactly how we ended up where we are today.”

Passengers stood in long lines trying to rebook their flights.

The Department of Transportation said on Twitter it was “concerned at Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays and reports of a lack of prompt customer service.” The tweet said the department would investigate whether Southwest could have done anything about the cancellations and whether the airline is adhering to its customer service plan.

Bryce Burger and his family were scheduled to be on a cruise to Mexico from San Diego on Dec. 24, but their flight from Denver was canceled without warning or notice, he said Tuesday. The flight was rebooked through Burbank, California, but that flight was canceled while they were at the gate.

“Just like my kids’ Christmas sucks. It’s horrible,” Burger said by phone from Salt Lake City, where the family was planning to go after giving up the cruise.

The family’s luggage is still at Denver Airport and Burger doesn’t know if he can get a cruise refund because the flight to California was booked separately.

Burger’s call logs show dozens of unsuccessful attempts to reach Southwest over a two-day period. The company has responded a tweet he sent. He said they offered him and his family a $250 coupon each.

Southwest did not immediately comment Tuesday, and information on the cancellations was last updated on the company’s website Monday.

The president of the union representing Southwest pilots blamed the shortage of crews to fly planes on planning software written in the 1990s and management, which he says has seen previous meltdowns, including a major disruption in the October 2021, have not fixed problems.

“There’s a lot of frustration because this is so avoidable,” union official Capt. Casey Murray. “The airline cannot connect crews to aircraft. I’m worried about this weekend. I’m worried about a month from now.”

Thalia Beaty contributed to this story from New York.


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