Massive Southwest Airlines disruption leaves customers stranded and call centers overwhelmed

Massive Southwest Airlines disruption leaves customers stranded and call centers overwhelmed

(CNN) — The mess of winter travel from last week lingers like a hangover this week – and the headaches are proportionate to the migraine for Southwest Airlines and its frustrated passengers on Monday.

More than 3,600 flights within, to or from the United States had already been canceled as of 4:10 p.m. ET on Monday, according to flight tracking website FlightAware, while nearly 5,800 flights had been delayed. .

But Southwest is a huge chunk of those. None of the other US carriers have canceled nearly as many flights or as much of their schedule as Southwest.

The Dallas-based airline had canceled about two-thirds of its flights — about 2,700 in total — as of 4:10 p.m. Monday, according to FlightAware. At one point, it canceled around 300 flights in the space of half an hour on Monday afternoon.

On social networks, customers complain loudly about long lines to speak with representatives, lost baggage issues, and excessive wait times or busy signals on airline customer service phone lines.

Customers wait to book their Southwest Airlines flight at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Monday.


CNN’s Carlos Suarez spoke to frustrated passengers queuing at the Southwest counter at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

He reports that around 150 customers are waiting in a long queue to rebook, with the queue snaking around the back of the ticket office.

“Disruptions on our network”

In a statement to CNN, Southwest Airlines said it “is experiencing disruptions to our network due to the continuing effects (of the winter storm) on our entire operations.”

Some of the airports with the biggest problem are Denver, Las Vegas, Chicago Midway, Baltimore/Washington and Dallas Love Field where Southwest operates.

Calls to Southwest customer service attempted Monday afternoon by CNN were unsuccessful, so customers couldn’t even wait in line to speak to a representative. Southwest told CNN he was “fully equipped to respond to calls.”

Customers encountered long lines at Southwest counters Monday at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

Customers encountered long lines at Southwest counters Monday at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.


The airline also says that “those whose flights have been canceled can request a full refund or receive a flight credit, which does not expire.”

Meanwhile, in hard-hit western New York, Buffalo International Airport said in its last tweet that it plans to resume passenger flights at 11 a.m. ET on Tuesday.

The temperature at the airport was 19 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 7 Celsius) around 4 p.m. ET, with light snow falling over the huge amounts the area has already seen.

What can stranded passengers do?

If you’ve been left behind and your efforts to reach a customer service agent aren’t going anywhere, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights suggests trying an international number.

“The main US airline hotline will be congested with other passengers rebooking. To quickly reach an agent, call one of the airline’s dozens of international offices,” said Scott Keyes.

“Agents can handle your booking like those based in the US, but there’s virtually no waiting to get through.”

Relief in sight?

It could be next week before everything is completely settled.

“When there are over 10,000 flight cancellations over the past week, it takes time for airlines to process and readjust the backlog of travelers,” Keyes told CNN Travel in an email.

“While it depends on the weather forecast (which looks promising for much of the country) and the number of travelers canceling their holiday plans, I expect that by next week things will be largely back to normal. to normal,” Keyes told me.

And why do so many people find it difficult to rebook?

“A complicating factor for people hoping to be relocated is the fact that there are so few places available this season,” Keyes said.

“This is both because Christmas and New Year are one of the most popular times of year for travel, and because the number of flights scheduled this year is still down 15-20% , which makes the challenge even more difficult for those who need to rebook.”

Bad road conditions

Road travel remained hazardous in parts of the United States due to extreme winter conditions.

In Erie County in western New York state, emergency driving restrictions were lifted in some communities but remained in place in Buffalo, County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

“The City of Buffalo is impassable in most areas, while mainlines may have an open lane or two for emergency traffic, most secondary and side streets have yet to be impacted,” Poloncarz said.

He added that the main roads cleared are mainly for the use of rescue measures to open up areas around hospitals and nursing homes.

A tough week

A winter storm that swept across the United States was inopportune for travelers who had begun to push the number of Christmas week flights back to pre-pandemic levels.

On Christmas Day, 3,178 flights were canceled and 6,870 were delayed, according to FlightAware.

On Christmas Eve, there were a total of 3,487 canceled flights, according to FlightAware.

Friday was the worst day in that streak with 5,934 cancellations, while Thursday saw nearly 2,700 cancellations.

This winter weather megablast in the eastern two-thirds of the country is expected to slowly moderate this week.

More developments to come on this breaking news.

CNN’s Ross Levitt, Chris Boyette and Artemis Moshtaghian contributed to this story.

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