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Wary travelers return to Oakland and San Jose airports after Southwest collapse

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On Friday, planes from the Southwest took off from rain-soaked tarmacs, luggage flowed freely around baggage carousels and thousands of passengers were once again crowded at the gates of Bay Area airports.

On any other day, it would have been a routine scene with the airline’s major hubs in Oakland and San Jose. But after last week’s colossal airline collapse, wary travelers at the end of the most chaotic holiday travel season in decades were wondering: Are things really back to normal?

“Everyone checks their phone every 20 minutes,” said LaDonna Parham, a career mentor who spent a “cold and hungry” night stranded at the Denver airport after a cancellation from the Southwest. On Friday, she cautiously flew from Oakland home to Austin, Texas, making sure to book a nonstop flight and take only one carry-on bag. “If it’s not a direct flight, I’m not going.”

Southwest had promised that by Friday it would reinstate its flight schedule with “minimum disruption”. And by late morning, the airline appeared to have successfully pressed the reset button, achieving a remarkable turnaround, going from scrapping over 15,000 flights in recent days to running at full steam with over 4,200 flights. . Oakland International saw no canceled flights Friday afternoon, and Mineta San Jose International had just three, or about 1% of southwest traffic.

Days earlier, electronic boards listing arrivals and departures were overflowing with anxiety-inducing red boxes showing canceled flights and countless upended holiday plans. On Friday, the Oakland boards were a calming sea of ​​green noting the on-time arrival of planes from Chicago, Phoenix and San Antonio.

For passengers like Barry and Sheila Gibert of Yorba Linda, the chaos of the airport gave way to the sweetness of life. “It was awesome, it was perfect,” said Sheila, who arrived in San Jose from Orange County. The flight was a third full. Absolutely stunning. It couldn’t have been nicer.

Yorba Linda's Sheila Gibert, left, and her husband, Barry, speak during an interview at Norman Y. Mineta International Airport in San Jose on Dec. 21, 2019. 30, 2022. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group )
Yorba Linda’s Sheila Gibert, left, and her husband, Barry, speak during an interview at Norman Y. Mineta International Airport in San Jose on Dec. 21, 2019. 30, 2022. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group )

In his first interview since the biggest operational debacle in Southwest history, CEO Bob Jordan said the airline was “off to a great start today.”

“Beyond safety, there is no higher priority at this point than taking care of our customers, reuniting them with their bags, getting refunds,” Jordan said on ABC Good Morning. America. He promised the airline would work to avoid a future collapse and avoided discussing whether he should quit.

Jamie Green, 52, greeted the situation at Oakland airport with a mixture of relief and hesitation.

“Lord, have mercy,” Green said as she checked in for a flight to Las Vegas. Green was also constantly checking his phone for signs of delays, which had yet to appear. “The line is not huge, and I have hope.”

The airline’s devastation has sparked a federal investigation and mounting pressure to hold Southwestern leaders accountable. A huge winter storm sent the whole industry into a tailspin from the Thursday before Christmas, but the South West’s problems snowballed as competing airlines recovered from weather delays. On Monday, Southwest canceled nearly 3,000 flights, while low-cost carrier Frontier canceled just 48 planes.

Airline experts say Southwest’s failure to update its decades-old scheduling software has catalyzed mass cancellations, which have left customers stranded across the country. Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg said his agency was prepared to impose heavy fines on Southwest if they “fail to comply with what is asked of them to take care of passengers”.

While Friday saw Southwest return to operations, the fiasco has deeply tarnished the reputation of the The “Unofficial Golden State Airline”. The episode may cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars, and Southwest faces swarms of loyal customers who are now questioning their devotion to the carrier.

Travelers, who took a southwesterly flight from Dallas, wait for their luggage at baggage claim at Norman Y. Mineta International Airport in San Jose on Dec. 21, 2019. 30, 2022. (Dai Sugano /Bay Area News Group)
Travelers, who took a southwesterly flight from Dallas, wait for their luggage at baggage claim at Norman Y. Mineta International Airport in San Jose on Dec. 21, 2019. 30, 2022. (Dai Sugano /Bay Area News Group)

“I used to be the hard-core Southwest at all costs,” said Heath Lehman, a frequent Southwest traveler. “It’s not going to be like that anymore.”

Lehman and his son Ethan were trying to salvage a long-awaited vacation to Hawaii. After watching customers break down in tears at an Arkansas airport over Christmas, they booked a $600 rental car in Dallas and, after spending a ‘full human day’ waiting, the couple were on the last straight line. They could almost taste the Mai Tais and feel the sand between their toes, but first they had a six-hour layover in the rainy Oakland.

“We pray,” Lehman said.

But many passengers said they were ready to give the airline a second chance, citing years of good service. “I like Southwest because in the past they’ve done it right,” said Hope Vailancourt, who had to shell out for an involuntary hotel stay in San Jose for a few nights with her husband, Scott. “I have confidence that they will. They are a good airline, so hopefully things will work out.

Scott Vailancourt of Austin, Texas, left, and his wife, Hope, speak during an interview at Norman Y. Mineta International Airport in San Jose on Dec. 21, 2019. 30, 2022. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)
Scott Vailancourt of Austin, Texas, left, and his wife, Hope, speak during an interview at Norman Y. Mineta International Airport in San Jose on Dec. 21, 2019. 30, 2022. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)

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