Southwest cancels more flights, sparks federal probe

Fort Lauderdale, Florida — Southwest Airlines canceled thousands of flights again Tuesday huge winter storm That has disrupted Christmas travel plans across the U.S., and the federal government said it would investigate why the company lagged so far behind other airlines.

Southwest Airlines canceled more than 2,600 East Coast flights by 3 p.m., a day after most U.S. airlines recovered from the storm. Those flights accounted for more than 80% of the 3,000 trips canceled across the country on Tuesday, according to tracking service FlightAware.

Chaos seems certain to continue. The airline also canceled 2,500 flights on Wednesday and nearly 1,200 on Thursday as it tried to restore orders to its damaged schedule.

At the airport where Southwest Airlines primarily operates, customers lined up hoping to find a seat on another flight. Some people try to rent a car in order to get to their destination faster. Others found places to sleep on the floor. Luggage piled up like a mountain.

Conrad Stoll, a 66-year-old retired construction worker in Missouri, was scheduled to fly from Kansas City to Los Angeles for his father’s 90th birthday party until his Southwest flight earlier Tuesday got canceled. He said he would not see his 88-year-old mother either.

“I went there in 2019, and she looked at me and said, ‘I’m not going to see you again,'” Stoll said. “My sister has been taking care of them and she’s like, ‘They’re losing it really fast.'”

Stoll hopes to see his parents again in the spring when the weather warms up.

The Dallas-based airline had little to say about its woes. The company provided no update on Tuesday morning, and information about the cancellation was last updated on the company website on Monday.

The problems started over the weekend and escalated on Monday, when Southwest canceled more than 70% of its flights.

That was after the worst of the storm had passed. Many pilots and flight attendants were unable to work, the airline said. Union leaders representing Southwest Airlines pilots and flight attendants blamed outdated crew-scheduling software and criticized company management.

Kathy Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said the airline failed to address the issues that led to a similar crash in October 2021.

“There’s a lot of frustration because it’s preventable,” Murray said. “Airlines can’t connect the crew to the plane. The airline doesn’t even know where the pilot is.”

Murray said managers this week resorted to requiring pilots at some airports to report to a central location, where they take the names of the pilots present and forward the list to headquarters.

Lyn Montgomery, president of the transportation workers union that represents Southwest flight attendants, is scheduled to meet later Tuesday with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has criticized the airline’s previous disruptions, Now for the Southwest Airlines woes.

“I’m taking it to the highest level — that’s what we do,” said a frustrated Montgomery. “It was a very catastrophic event.”

Buttigieg’s office confirmed he planned to speak with Montgomery, but declined to comment further on the Southwest mess.

Late Monday, the Department of Transportation tweeted that it would review “Southwest’s unacceptable cancellation rate” and whether the airline is meeting its legal obligations to help stranded customers.

Southwest spokesman Jay McVeigh said flight cancellations snowballed as the storm system moved across the country, preventing crews and planes from taking off normally.

“So we’ve been chasing our tails, trying to catch up and get back to normal safely, and that’s our priority, as quickly as possible,” he told a news conference in Houston late Monday. “And that’s why we’re here.”

Bryce Burger and his family were due to depart San Diego for Mexico on Dec. 24, but their flight from Denver was canceled without warning. The flight was rebooked through Burbank, California, but while they were sitting at the gate, the flight was canceled.

“It’s like my kids had a bad Christmas. It’s horrible,” Burger said in a phone interview Tuesday from Salt Lake City, where the family decided to drive after ditching their cruise.

The family’s luggage was still at the Denver airport. Since the flight to California was booked separately, Burger didn’t know if he could return the cruise.

Burger’s call logs show that he tried unsuccessfully to contact Southwest Airlines multiple times over two days.the company did respond his tweet. He said they gave him and his family a $250 voucher each.

The size and severity of the storm wreaked havoc on many airlines, though the airports with the most canceled flights on Tuesday were major Southwest Airlines carriers, including Denver, Chicago Midway, Las Vegas, Baltimore and Dallas.

Spirit Airlines and Alaska Airlines have both canceled about 10% of their flights, with American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and JetBlue canceling far less.

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

Kristy Smiley was waiting for her mother to pick her up at the Kansas City airport as she planned to return home to Los Angeles before Southwest Airlines canceled her flight on Tuesday. Southwest had until New Year’s Day Sunday to put her on another plane. She called other airlines, but the cheapest flight she could find was $4,000.

“Now they’re like taking advantage of it, you know — taking advantage of it,” Smiley said. She still doesn’t know what to think of Southwest Airlines.

“They acted like (Tuesday’s flight) was about to leave until they started saying, ‘Oh, five more minutes. Oh, 10 more minutes. I’m not sure what’s wrong with them. There seems to be something wrong.'”

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Associated Press writers Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Missouri, and Thalia Beaty in New York contributed to this story.

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