Southwest Airlines under investigation as more flights canceled after storm

Southwest Airlines cut thousands of flights again on Tuesday following the massive winter storm that wrecked Christmas travel plans across the United States, and the federal government said it would investigate why the company was so far behind other carriers.

A day after most US airlines recovered from the storm, Southwest canceled about 2,600 more East Coast flights by late afternoon. Those flights accounted for more than 80% of the 3,000 trips that were canceled nationwide on Tuesday, according to tracking service FlightAware.

And the chaos seemed certain to continue. The airline also cut 2,500 flights for Wednesday and more than 2,300 for Thursday as it tried to restore order to its mangled schedule.

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

Jordan blamed the winter storm for hampering the airline’s “very complex” network. He said Southwest’s tools for recovering from the disruptions are working “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 to make things right,” said Jordan, a 34-year-old South West veteran who became CEO in February. “For now, I want you to know that we are committed to it.”

Lyn Montgomery, president of the Transport Workers Union representing Southwest flight attendants, said she and other union leaders have repeatedly told management that the airline’s scheduling technology is not pretty good.

“It’s something we saw coming,” she said. “It’s a very catastrophic event.”

The airline is now attracting unwanted attention from Washington.

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

“While we all understand that you can’t control the weather, this clearly crossed the line between what is an out-of-control weather situation and something that is the direct responsibility of the airline,” Buttigieg told NBC Nightly. News. He said Southwest should at least provide cash refunds for canceled flights and cover hotel and meal costs for stranded passengers.

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

The size and severity of the storm has wreaked havoc on many airlines, although the highest number of flight cancellations on Tuesday occurred at airports where Southwest is a major carrier, including Denver, Chicago Midway, Las Vegas, Baltimore and Dallas.

Spirit Airlines and Alaska Airlines have both canceled around 10% of their flights, with much lower cancellation percentages at American, Delta, United and JetBlue.

Danielle Zanin has vowed never to fly South West again after it took four days, several canceled flights and overslept at the airport before she, her husband and their two young children flew home to the ‘Illinois from Albuquerque, New Mexico. They made stops at Denver and Phoenix airports and only reached Chicago after abandoning Southwest and paying $1,400 for four one-way tickets on American Airlines.

“I remember saying, ‘Oh my God, we’re getting on a plane!’ Honestly, I was shocked because I thought we were stuck in airports forever,” she said.

Zanin plans to ask Southwest for a refund of some of his original tickets plus the new ones on American, and additional expenses for car rental, parking, an Uber ride and food — about $2,000 in all .

“I don’t have the good faith that they will do much,” she said.

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