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South West cancellations continue as airline faces fallout from 'merger'

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Anger over the tidal wave of Southwest Airlines flight cancellations continued to mount Thursday. Senior officials demanded action as the company issued a new apology for the crisis, which is now in its eighth day of grounding or delaying hundreds of thousands of passengers.

On a day when more than 2,300 Southwest flights were canceled across the United States, the airline’s chief commercial officer, Ryan Green, expressed regret over the collapse of services, promising to rebuild relations customers who have sunk to the bottom during the busy holidays. travel period.

“My personal apologies are the first step in making things right after many plans changed and experiences did not meet your expectations,” Green said in a video posted Thursday.

“We continue to work to catch up with you, and you will continue to hear about it soon. But for now, we are focused on restoring the reliability and level of customer experience that we have come to expect from us and that you have come to expect from us. we.

His remarks, which follow earlier excuses from the airline’s CEO, Bob Jordan, came as US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg made his own scathing assessment of Southwest’s problems, calling the situation a complete “meltdown”.

“You have a business here that has a lot of cleaning to do,” he said.

The company had previously warned it could take days to clear the backlog of stranded people and lost luggage, but one of its unions offered a glimmer of hope, saying things could improve d here Friday.

However, Thursday promises to be more or less the same, with departures from the South West accounting for 2,357 out of a total of 2,448 canceled flights, according to the flight tracking website. FlightAware.

On top of all that, there’s growing scrutiny of what led to this meltdown, with operations at Denver International Airport under a microscope.

Southwest’s decision to enact ‘operational emergency’ staffing procedures last week at Denver airport as a massive winter storm rolled in would now have played a significant role in creating the crisis national operational airline.

Denver led the United States to cancel on Wednesday and has been one of the nation’s biggest problems for several days.

Southwestern emergency staffing procedures in Denver included requiring a doctor’s note to verify illness after an employee called in sick, a southern spokesperson said Wednesday. -west to CNN.

The spokesperson could not say whether the staffing policy remains in place or when the special rules ended.

The Washington Post quoted a Southwestern memo to the operational emergency, dated Dec. 21, in which the airline’s vice president of ground operations said the condition was imposed due to an “unusually high number of absences” of employees from Denver-based track, including sick calls and personal days for afternoon and evening shifts.

The operational emergency — experienced only in Denver, the company says — is separate from the issue the company says is responsible for the nationwide cascade of cancellations.

Denver International Airport has announced plans to conduct after-action reviews with the airport’s three major carriers — Frontier, Southwest and United — to learn lessons from the disruptions while the situation is still fresh.

A traveler looks at luggage in the baggage claim area inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a union official representing pilots in the South West said their flying schedules should be almost back to normal by the end of the working week.

Mike Santoro, vice president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday that the union understands the airline is planning a “nearly full schedule on Friday.”

“Weather, you know, was a big event that triggered it, although that’s no excuse for the lack of planning IT infrastructure that really caused the problem,” Santoro said.

As of 8 a.m. ET Thursday, Southwest had only canceled 39 flights for Friday, according to FlightAware.

The union official said Southwest’s planning infrastructure was generally working well, but added that this was not the first time they had seen a collapse leading to delays. “When you have these big weather events, it always seems to fall apart,” Santoro said.

Southwest spokesman Chris Perry told CNN the airline hasn’t had a problem with employees not showing up for work.

“We have had no staffing issues at any station in our operation and commend our employees for the hard work they do,” Perry said.

Travelers tag their luggage at Orlando International Airport on December 28, 2022.

In total, Southwest has canceled about 15,700 flights since winter weather began to disrupt air travel on Dec. 22. (This figure includes flights already canceled for Thursday.)

Other US airlines flying in the same weather conditions have since recovered from the disruption caused by the storm.

In fact, American Airlines and United Airlines have capped prices On certain routes served by Southwest Airlines to make their flights more accessible to stranded passengers.

Southwest does not have interlining agreements with other carriers that would allow its agents to rebook passengers on another airline, leaving travelers to explore other options.

Buttigieg says he spoke directly to Southwest CEO Bob Jordan on Tuesday about the thousands of flights that were canceled this week.

“Their system has really completely melted away,” Buttigieg told Blitzer. “I have clarified that our department will hold them accountable to their responsibilities to customers, both to help them through this situation and to ensure it does not happen again.”

Those responsibilities include providing meal vouchers and hotel accommodations for passengers whose flights have been disrupted “as a result of Southwest’s decisions and actions,” a Department of Transportation spokesperson said ( DOWRY).

U.S. airlines are also required to provide cash refunds to passengers whose flights were canceled and chose not to travel, the DOT said.

Buttigieg told CNN the Department of Transportation is prepared to issue fines to Southwest if the company is found to have failed to meet its legal obligations, but added that the department will take a closer look at service issues. regular airline customers.

The secretary said he told CEO Jordan that he expects Southwest to proactively offer refunds and expense reimbursements to affected passengers without them having to ask.

A travel expert warns to proceed with caution when it comes to refunds.

“Southwest says ‘We will honor reasonable requests for reimbursement for meals, hotel and alternative transportation,'” points out Phil Dengler, co-founder of the travel advice site. The vacationer.

“While Southwest remains vague on how much they will refund, I would avoid any expensive hotels or restaurants. Use Google Hotels to find hotels near the airport where you are stranded.

And he also warns against piling up a big tab.

Do some Google searches such as “free things to do near me”. I doubt Southwest will reimburse tours or other paid activities, so I wouldn’t book expensive excursions you can’t afford.”

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Bob Jordan

Southwest CEO reacts to backlash from cancellations

“It will take a long time for Southwest Airlines to regain public trust,” Dengler said of The Vacationer.

“While extreme weather has affected other airlines, Southwest has experienced a real meltdown at the worst possible time. Many Americans are having to decide whether or not to wait or potentially spend thousands of dollars to get a home that can whether or not to be fully reimbursed by the Sud-Ouest.

He noted that “some households did not even have the option of waiting as one or more members had to return to work earlier in the week. Unfortunately, this is going to be an ordeal for many families, and the time lost is going to be significant in many cases.

A large portion of Americans only fly once a year and want a hassle-free experience. I think a lot of people are going to pause when booking their next flight and they see Southwest Airlines as the cheapest option.

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