Tens of thousands of passengers have been plunged into total chaos after beleaguered Southwest Airlines canceled swathes of flights across the country.
Desperate passengers were forced to sleep in terminals surrounded by growing mounds of lost luggage after being stranded at airports when the airline canceled over 80 percent of its flight schedule – causing President Biden to weigh in.
Southwest barred passengers from rebooking blundered flights after announcing they are only operating 1,500 trips a day until Friday, leaving many separated from loved ones during the festive season.
Distressed travelers – some of whom will not be able to return home for nearly a week – bemoaned the frantic scenes in airport terminals as Biden’s Administration vowed to ‘ensure airlines are held accountable’ for the disarray caused by Southwest.
Airport staff and a person walks around a pile of lost suitcases near the baggage carousel at Midway Airport in Chicago, on Tuesday
Passengers have been stranded for days in the terminal at La Guardia Airport. Thousands of bags are piled up due to the storm and Southwest Airlines’ cancellations
Stacks of lost bags piled up at the New York City airport on Tuesday afternoon
The airline has already canceled more than 2,500 flights today leaving tens of thousands of people in the lurch as the new year approaches.
And the faltering airline stalled allowing passengers to rebook flights, and one disgruntled traveler told DailyMail.com they are only allowed to receive ‘credit’ for their canceled trip.
Southwest’s lack of sufficient staffing and their dated IT systems have only worsened the issues caused by the catastrophic blizzard this week.
Furious Molly Braun told DailyMail.com: ‘My boyfriend dropped my brother off at [Dallas] Love Field and he found out by checking the website that my brother’s 10:45am flight (to Chicago and connecting to Cincinnati) was cancelled.
Passengers at LaGuardia airport in New York lay on the ground as they wait for a flight
Baggage at LaGuardia airport was neatly lined up as plenty of bags wait for customers to pick them up on Tuesday after the swathe of cancelations
What is the cause of Southwest’s tumultuous cancelations?
Captain Casey Murray, the president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said that these problems with the airline have been brewing for months.
He said: ‘We’ve been having these issues for the past 20 months. We’ve seen these sorts of meltdowns occur on a much more regular basis and it really just has to do with outdated processes and outdated IT.
‘It’s phones, it’s computers, it’s processing power, it’s the programs used to connect us to airplanes – that’s where the problem lies, and it’s systemic throughout the whole airline.’
Southwest CEO Bob Jordan also admitted the dated airline’s massive issue – as CNN reported he said: ‘Part of what we’re suffering is a lack of tools.
‘We’ve talked an awful lot about modernizing the operation, and the need to do that.’
He said the airline is ‘committed to and invested in’ improving its systems, but ‘we need to be able to produce solutions faster.’
‘Southwest never proactively told us. They had no options to reschedule until Thursday, 12/29. And they won’t even refund my brother. They just said they will save his airfare as a credit for next time.’
Braun managed to book her brother a separate flight for $150 more for Tuesday evening, but said she got no support from Southwest – saying she was on hold for two and a half hours to no avail.
Thomas Martin from Kansas City has been stranded at LaGuardia since Christmas Eve and told DailyMail.com that he’s now decided to take Amtrak for $1800 to get home after Southwest’s immense blunder.
The Texas-based airlines is currently not letting passengers book or rebook flights – forcing travelers to buy massively overpriced, last-minute tickets on other airlines.
Some are even traveling home without their luggage and other airports have miles of disorganized luggage that have been there since Christmas – with no staff available to help with the mounting frenzy.
Biden has also reminded customers they may be eligible for compensation through Southwest for not meeting the Department of Transportations’ standards – which was set after the summer chaos, which saw similar outcomes to this weekend.
Southwest has set up a portal for customers to request a refund after irate customers took to Twitter to complain about the hours long lines at the airport and be disconnected via phone.
But some still say that they’re only offered credit, rather than money back.
Of the nearly 3,000 flights canceled today, Southwest made up 2,566 of them, canceling 60 percent more flights than the next leading major airlines, United and JetBlue, which only canceled two percent of its flights today. American Airlines has canceled zero percent today.
Thomas Martin (right) from Kansas City has been stranded at LaGuardia since Christmas Eve and have now decided to take Amtrak for $1800 to get home
Passengers were forced to sleep on the floor at a Chicago airport after the flights were closed
Dazed and confused passengers try and find their luggage following the immense issues with Southwest and their flights
Hope you didn’t check a bag! A Los Angeles airport (pictured) and several others have a sea of baggage back-up, leaving angry passengers to sort through hundreds to find theirs
President Joe Biden said airlines will be held ‘accountable’ for the travel disruptions and passengers may be eligible for compensation
Some passengers have already been told they won’t get a flight out for six days and others are stranded in airports and are unable to rent a vehicle home and with no help from Southwest employees.
Southwest passenger Kara Dyrek told Good Morning America: ‘They said: “No one is getting on a Southwest flight for four days and we can’t help you go home.”‘
Southwest also plans to ‘zero-out inventory, making it so people can’t buy or rebook onto flights that may eventually be canceled,’ it’s been reported.
One passenger said they had to rebook on a first-class ticket on a separate airline to make it home and their luggage is still tied up with Southwest, including their medications.
Grey DeLisle wrote on Twitter: ‘Stop blaming the WEATHER! Had to buy a first-class ticket on another airline, but it TOOK OFF ON TIME!
‘You have our luggage with medication inside! Can’t get through the phone! Holding for hours since Christmas Eve only to be disconnected. Dad missed Xmas!’
Photos revealed the chaotic, overcrowded baggage claim carousals which passengers are having to deal with because of the cancelations.
Hundreds of bags are lying unaccounted for at La Guardia Airport and Midway Airport in Chicago – and Southwest has allegedly failed to designate someone to help customers sort through the mounds of luggage.
Desperate passengers were forced to sleep in terminals surrounded by growing mounds of luggage after being stranded at airports when the airline canceled over 70 percent of its flight schedule – causing President Biden to weigh in
They said: “No one is getting on a Southwest flight for four days and we can’t help you go home,”‘ Southwest passenger Kara Dyrek (pictured) said
Airport staff looks around a pile of lost suitcases near the baggage carousel at Midway Airport in Chicago
The Department of Transportation (DOT) has opened an investigation into the airline to look into its high-volume cancelations, saying it was ‘concerned by Southwest Airlines’ disproportionate and unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays.’
‘As more information becomes available the Department will closely examine whether cancellations were controllable and whether Southwest is complying with its customer service plan as well as all other pertinent DOT rules,’ the government agency said in a statement.
Southwest has chartered buses for some passengers to get some places, including one from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Nashville, Tennessee – a journey of 500 miles.
In addition, customer service lines at the airport are up to ‘five’ hours long and some are being told there’s nothing they can do.
‘It’s been hell,’ one Southwest passenger Denzil Smother told CBS News.
In more bad news for Southwest passengers, those with New Year flight plans could face another nightmare.
‘We anticipate additional changes with an already reduced level of flights as we approach the coming New Year holiday travel period. And we’re working to reach out to customers whose travel plans will change with specific information and their available options,’ Southwest told CBS News in a statement.
Many passengers are forced to stay at the airports as many hotels are booked full and rental cars are unavailable
The backlog of baggage is also atrocious as hundreds of bags wait to be picked up
Plenty of families wait around hoping for a miracle while other try to get on other airlines
Southwest also told Good Morning America that it ‘recognized’ that it had ‘fallen short and sincerely apologize.’
‘I think it’s just the sheer size of the storm, the fact that this one started west [and] swept east and impacted almost every single one of our largest airports. That put us in a position where we struggled to recover,’ Jay McVay, a spokesperson for the airline, said.
‘As the storm continued to sweep across the country, it continued to impact many of our larger stations and so the cancellations just compiled one after another to 100 to 150 to 1,000,’ he said.
‘With those cancellations and as a result, we end up with flight crews and airplanes that are out of place and not in the cities that they need to be in to continue to run our operations.
‘We will do everything that we need to do to right the challenges that we’ve had right now,’ he said, including ‘hotels, ride assistance, vans…rental cars to try and make sure these folks get home as quickly as possible.’
More than 3,800 US flights were canceled on Monday, including 2,800 operated by Southwest. Delays were reported for more than 7,100 US flight departures and arrivals overall.
On Christmas Day, the operator canceled 42 percent of its flights, a total of 1,635.
Hundreds of bags are lying unaccounted for at La Guardia Airport and Midway Airport in Chicago – and Southwest has allegedly failed to designate someone to help customers sort through the mounds of luggage
One traveler took her frustrations out over Twitter, writing that she had received any notifications from the airline and had suffered through two days of cancelations
Southwest Airline flights at Hollywood Burbank, Phoenix Sky Harbor International, and San Diego Airport have virtually all been canceled, according to reports.
It is anticipated that the disruption could continue into the New Year holiday travel period at the end of this week, with some reports suggesting that all flights from Hollywood Burbank Airport operated by the airline are canceled until December 31.
The volume of cancelations and delays by Southwest was partially caused by the extreme weather- and a lacked of preparedness by the airline.
Southwest has a hub of planes in Chicago and Denver, but both of those areas were significantly affected by the storm, which led to planes freezing.
Thousands of people were left stranded inside the airport on Friday and all the hotels nearby are fully booked. The runways at the airport reopened on the same day.
Photos showed travelers with blankets as they slept on chairs and other open areas.
Many would-be passengers have taken to Twitter to share their frustration.
One said: ‘Two days, two cancelled flights, no notifications, no way to contact through web, phone or email. Family of four missed San Diego holiday and family. Southwest continues to blame the weather. All other airlines made it.’
Another added that they were ‘praying for a miracle’ after a family member’s flight to her daughter’s wedding was canceled.
And another said: ‘I had a six-hour drive, waited an hour for my rental car. Southwest I am highly disappointed in you. I might be done with you after this.’
An employee of Southwest Airlines checks unclaimed and rerouted luggage at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Florida, on Tuesday
Many who have tried to reach the airline on the phone have been waiting on hold for several hours in the hope of speaking with a member of staff.
Union representatives claimed that flight attendants and other crew members are stuck in different states across the US after a series of cancellations.
The airline doesn’t have their precise locations since stranded workers took matters into their own hands and booked their own accommodations when the company failed to help in a timely manner.
‘We have crews stuck, and scheduling doesn’t know where they are,’ Casey Murray, a union representative for the airlines said.
The CEO Bob Jordan confirmed that the company’s scheduling platforms are not advanced enough for the current crisis.
Jordan told employees earlier this week that it could take days for the airline to resume normal operations.
‘The winter storm was unprecedented all across our network,’ Jordan said in a statement obtained by the Wall Street Journal. ‘And we’ve got fallout from that — just trying to get the network back to normal.’
In a statement, the airline cited ‘consecutive days of extreme winter weather’ as the culprit.
‘Challenges are impacting our customers and employees in a significant way that is unacceptable,’ the statement read.