For many stranded airline passengers, holiday travel is evaporating any semblance of tidings of comfort and joy.
Thousands of airline travelers have been subject to some of the worst delays in recent memory this week, as images of airport terminals flooded with passengers and baggage continue to emerge.
Southwest Airlines is under fire for canceling or delaying over 85 percent of its flights due to extreme weather and staffing shortages as of Monday night. Between Monday and Thursday, the airline canceled approximately 8,000 flights, according to airline tracker FlightAware. Nearly 150 flights were canceled on Monday at Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI) alone. Another 59 were delayed.
The situation hasn’t gotten any less chaotic since. On Tuesday, a total of 2,924 domestic flights have been canceled as of publication. Of those, 2,538 were Southwest flights. In contrast, United, Delta, JetBlue, and American had cancellation rates between 0 and 2 percent.
“It’s pretty messed up because [Southwest Airlines doesn’t] even have people to email or text their customers telling them that the flights have been delayed,” passenger Bob Bernstein told ABC7. Bernstein said he opted to drive from the DC area to Houston after being told his flight would be delayed until Saturday.
The Washington Post‘s residential TikToker Dave Jorgenson echoed Bernstein’s comment on Twitter Tuesday morning, writing, “@SouthWestAir didn’t send a notification, email or even ‘u up.’ Just stumbled across this ‘Cancelled’ in the app while we were on the way to the airport.”
In statements to the media, Southwest Airlines characterized the situation as “unacceptable” and extended “heartfelt apologies.”
“So, we’ve been chasing our tails, trying to catch up and get back to normal safely, which is our number one priority as quickly as we could,” Southwest spokesperson Jay McVay said during a press conference in Houston. “And that’s exactly how we ended up where we are today.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation said on Twitter that it remains “concerned by Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays & reports of lack of prompt customer service. The Department will examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan.”
Southwest officials say the airline is planning to operate at around a third of its typical schedule so that crews can return to their assigned destinations before beginning to sort through the passenger backlog. Communication, however, continues to be an issue.
“Nobody knew what was going on. There was like no directions or anything,” passenger AJ Jallow told NBC4. “You go to the front of the line, they didn’t know what was happening. You go to somebody for some help, they didn’t know what was happening. There was like a lot of misdirection … a lot of confusion.”
Speaking with The Wall Street Journal on Monday, Southwest CEO Bob Jordan called the situation “a tough day.”
“In all likelihood we’ll have another tough day tomorrow as we work our way out of this,” he told the WSJ. “This is the largest-scale event that I’ve ever seen.”
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