Thousands Stranded As Southwest Cancels Two-Thirds Of Post-Christmas Flights
A worker directs a Southwest Airlines Co. Boeing 737 passenger jet pushing back from a gate at Midway International Airport (MDW) in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021. Southwest Airlines Co. disruptions moved into a fourth day, with 355 canceled flights, or 10% of its daily schedule, on Monday, the latest in a series of setbacks at the carrier. 
Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Travelers returning from Christmas excursions were stranded across the country as Southwest Airlines canceled more than two-thirds of its flights, drawing the attention of government officials.

Southwest nixed 2,909 flights on Monday, accounting for 71% of the company’s volume, according to data from FlightAware, far surpassing other major carriers. Southwest also canceled 2,536 flights on Tuesday and 2,474 flights scheduled for Wednesday, representing 63% and 61% of its flights, respectively.

“We had a tough day today. In all likelihood we’ll have another tough day tomorrow as we work our way out of this,” Chief Executive Bob Jordan said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Monday evening. “This is the largest scale event that I’ve ever seen.”

Southwest Chief Commercial Officer Ryan Green told the outlet that the airline would reimburse stranded passengers who were forced to stay in hotels, rent cars, or purchase tickets with another carrier. Customers whose flights were disrupted can receive refunds.

The Department of Transportation said on Monday that the agency will “examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan,” while Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said that he is tracking the situation “closely.” Airlines are not required to compensate passengers for delayed or canceled flights unless passengers are bumped from an oversold flight.

Delta Air Lines and United Airlines respectively canceled 9% and 5% of flights on Monday, as well as 1% and 2% of flights on Tuesday, according to FlightAware.

The cancellations occurred after severe winter weather, including subzero temperatures and heavy snowfalls, impacted travel across the United States during the holiday weekend. As many as 54 million passengers were expected to depart from airports between December 18 and January 3, marking a 20% increase from last year, according to data from Hopper.

Southwest, which is headquartered in Dallas, attributed the canceled flights to the poor weather conditions. “We were fully staffed and prepared for the approaching holiday weekend when the severe weather swept across the continent,” the company said in a statement. “These operational conditions 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.”

Thousands of flights were also canceled last Christmas as a result of COVID outbreaks among crew members. Hundreds of flights entering or leaving the United States were canceled on Christmas Day alone, while thousands of additional flights were delayed.

Ahead of this year’s holiday travel, airlines posted extensive lists of cities from which they expect flights to be disrupted as a result of winter weather, including Chicago, Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, and Milwaukee. Several companies waived fees for customers who rebook their flights within certain time frames.

The most popular destinations for Christmas travel included New York City, Los Angeles, Orlando, Dallas, and Atlanta, according to Hopper. Domestic roundtrip airfare prices for Christmas are currently averaging $339, marking an 11% decrease from 2019 and a 15% decrease from 2021.

Winter weather also caused more than one million American homes and businesses to lose power, especially along the East Coast. Major delivery services such as FedEx and Amazon warned of delays for last-minute Christmas packages.

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