Southwest Airlines flight cancellations continue to snowball

Another 2,500 flights are being pulled from arrival and departure boards Wednesday and more are expected throughout the day.

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Itzel Enciso, 19, who is visiting Chicago from Los Angeles and said her bag was mistakenly tagged to arrive in Cleveland, looks for her lost luggage near the baggage carousel at Midway Airport, Tuesday, December 27, 2022, after Southwest Airlines flights were cancelled and delayed during winter storm Elliott. Passengers from flights across the U.S. looked for and waited for their lost luggage Tuesday morning.

Itzel Enciso, 19, of Los Angeles, looks for her luggage at Midway Airport on Tuesday. She said her bag was mistakenly tagged to arrive in Cleveland.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

DALLAS — Families hoping to catch a Southwest Airlines flight after days of cancellations, missing luggage and missed family connections suffered through another wave of scrubbed flights, with another 2,500 pulled from arrival and departure boards Wednesday.

Exhausted travelers sought passage by other means using different airlines, rental cars, or trains — or they’ve simply given up.

Adontis Barber, a 34-year-old jazz pianist from Kansas City, Missouri, had camped in the city’s airport since his Southwest flight was canceled Saturday but joined the latter camp Wednesday.

“I give up,” he said. “I’m starting to feel homeless.”

According to the FlightAware tracking service, more than 91% of all canceled flights in the U.S. early Wednesday were from Southwest, which has been unable to recover from ferocious winter storms that raked large swaths of the country over the weekend.

The operational systems of Southwest have been uniquely affected, so much so that the federal government is now investigating what happened at the Dallas carrier, which has frustrated its flight and ground crews as well.

This week, with cancellations from other major airlines ranging from none to 2%, Southwest has canceled nearly 10,000 flights as of Wednesday and warned of thousands more Thursday and Friday, according to FlightAware.

In a video that Southwest posted late Tuesday, CEO Robert Jordan said Southwest would operate a reduced schedule for several days but hoped to be “back on track before next week.”

Jordan blamed the winter storm for snarling the airline’s “highly complex” network. He said Southwest’s tools for recovering from disruptions work “99% of the time, but clearly we need to double down” on upgrading systems to avoid a repeat of this week.

“We have some real work to do in making this right,” said Jordan, a 34-year Southwest veteran who became CEO in February. “For now, I want you to know that we are committed to that.”

The airline is now drawing unwanted attention from Washington.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has criticized airlines for previous disruptions, said his agency would examine the causes of Southwest’s widespread cancellations and whether the airline was meeting its legal obligations to stranded customers.

He called Southwest’s problems a “system failure” Wednesday on Good Morning America.

“They need to make sure that these stranded passengers get to where they need go, and that they’re provided adequate compensation…not just for the flight itself…and they should absolutely be providing refunds for those flights that were cancelled if passengers aren’t able to fly or chose not to fly, but also things like hotels, like ground transportation, like meals, because this is the airline’s responsibility,” Buttigieg said.

Barber, the musician from Kansas City, already had missed a performance Sunday in Dallas but initially hoped to make it to D.C. in time for a New Year’s performance near the National Mall.

“I’m missing out on money,” he lamented.

In Congress, the Senate Commerce Committee also promised an investigation. Two Senate Democrats called on Southwest to provide “significant” compensation for stranded travelers, saying that the airline has the money because it plans to pay $428 million in dividends next month.

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