(CNN) — Southwest Airlines has canceled nearly 15,800 flights since Dec. 22, a disruption that has shaken the company to its core, with Southwest promising to return to its normal flight schedule on Friday.
The big question on everyone’s mind: Can Southwest deliver now? The picture will become clearer as routine air traffic picks up on Friday morning.
So far, the numbers seem to support Southwest’s commitment. Only 39 Southwest Friday flights had been canceled as of 6 a.m. ET Friday, flight tracking service FlightAware showed.
It would certainly be a relief to passengers and companies if those planes were flying again with fewer luggage piles. It has a mark on its back.
To say the least, senior U.S. government officials are uneasy about how Southwest has come to this point after a massive winter storm that contained every other major U.S. airline just days earlier.
And they’re asking Southwest to get things right — or face financial consequences.
what southwest airlines said today
In a statement released Thursday — after another setback day in which another 2,362 flights were canceled — Southwest Airlines said it hoped to keep disruptions to a minimum over New Year’s weekend.
“We are encouraged by the progress made in aligning crews, their schedules and our fleet,” it said. “We know we can only express our deepest apologies, even to our customers, our employees and everyone affected by this disruption,” the statement read.
“We have set up a page on Southwest.com/traveldisruption for customers to submit refund and reimbursement requests for meals, hotels and alternative transportation; and to connect customers with their luggage.”
However, that still doesn’t quell questions about how the airline’s systems allow things to go so wrong and demand that they never happen again. The Department of Transportation (DOT) remains firmly behind Southwest Airlines.
DOT to the Southwest: It’s up to passengers to do the right thing
The DOT formally warned Southwest Airlines on Thursday that it will face consequences if it fails to fix the problem for stranded and inconvenienced passengers.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg wrote in a letter to Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan that if the airline does not honor its commitment to reimburse passengers for alternative transportation and provide meals , hotels, refunds and baggage uniform commitments, officials will take action against the airline.
Penalties include the ability to impose fines.
“Failing to honor this commitment to passengers would be an unfair and deceptive practice,” Buttigieg wrote, referring specifically to alternative travel reimbursements.
“The department will use its fullest investigative and enforcement powers to hold Southwest Airlines accountable if it fails to comply with its commitment to pay for alternative transportation for passengers.”
These fines can be substantial.
“Airlines have told me they’re going to go above and beyond what’s being asked of them,” Buttigieg said in an interview with NBC News on Thursday. “I want to make sure they do, and if they don’t, we’re going to have tens of thousands of dollars in fines per passenger per violation.”
Regrets and Repairs
The airline’s chief commercial officer, Ryan Green, lamented the collapse in service and pledged to rebuild customer relationships that have hit rock bottom.
“My personal apology is the first step in correcting things after many plans have changed and the experience has not lived up to your expectations of us,” Green said in a video posted Thursday.
“We’re continuing to work hard to fill your gaps, and you’ll continue to hear that soon. But for now, we’re focused on restoring the reliability and level of customer experience we’ve come to expect from ourselves and you’ve come to expect from us .”
His comments followed an earlier apology from airline CEO Jordan, when Buttigieg offered a scathing assessment of Southwest’s troubles, calling the situation a complete “collapse.”
“Your company here needs to do a lot of cleanup,” he said.
some understanding passengers
Some passengers took it all in stride and expressed some sympathy for Southwest.
Several people at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport spoke to CNN’s Nick Valencia on Thursday about their experiences traveling with Southwest Airlines this holiday season.
“I mean, it’s just par for the course. It’s air travel, and everyone’s trying to get everywhere at the same time. Unfortunately, Southwest has borne the brunt of this year’s travel misfortune,” Roderic Hister told CNN .
Asked what he thought of the lack of queues at the southwest counter at the airport, Histor said: “Maybe they’re trying to improve because there’s no long lines and people don’t complain here. So, maybe You know, the self-salvation effort is working.”
Winston Williams, who was standing near Heist, said he intended to continue using the airline in the future. “I love Southwest. I mean, the bags are free,” Williams said.
People want to know: what causes this?
Ask the employees of Southwest Airlines about their company’s technology. You won’t get many good reviews.
While Southwest has grown from a Texas-based low-cost carrier operating three planes to one of the largest U.S. airlines, union officials representing Southwest workers say the company has not kept pace with technological change pace of. They said they had expressed concerns for years.
“We’ve been babbling about them every year since 2015,” Mike Santoro, captain and vice president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, told CNN.
They and the airline itself described an internal process that required multiple departments to manually redesign the airline’s schedules — a system that worked “the vast majority of the time,” the airline said in a statement.
When things go wrong, Southwest software — including crew scheduling system tools — leaves much of the work of rebuilding that fragile network to manual work.
Elaine Chao, who served as transportation secretary during the Trump administration, described Southwest’s outage as an “incredible failure.”
She told CNN it was “a perfect storm of everything that’s going on with the company. It will take them a long time to rebuild consumers’ trust,” she added.
Phil Dengler, co-founder of travel advice site The Vacationer, agrees.
“It will take a long time for Southwest to regain public trust. While extreme weather has affected other airlines, Southwest has had a real meltdown at the worst possible time,” he emailed CNN Travel on Thursday. Say.
“A large percentage of Americans fly only once a year, and they want a hassle-free experience. I’m sure a lot of people stop when they book their next flight, and they think Southwest is the cheapest option,” Dengler said.
“While low prices are tempting, this breakdown will lead many travelers to explore other low-cost options.”
what the client should do
Dengler cautioned against handling these promised chargebacks.
“Southwest said, ‘We will accommodate reasonable requests for reimbursement for meals, hotels and alternative transportation,'” he said. “While Southwest is vague about how much it will reimburse, I would avoid any expensive hotels or restaurants. Use Google Hotels to find nearby hotels near the airport where you’re stranded.”
And he cautioned against piling up large fees.
“Do some Google searches like ‘free activities near me’. I doubt Southwest will reimburse travel or other paid activities, so I wouldn’t book any expensive excursions you can’t afford.”
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