Travelers stranded by the Southwest Airlines crisis face days of waiting as the airline struggles to rebuild systems hit by holiday storms and faces growing anger and scrutiny from Congress and federal regulators over how the debacle happened.
Thousands were stranded Tuesday, leaving many with few travel options, and Southwest said the new flights may not be available for several days.
Airlines canceled more than 5,000 flights Tuesday evening, most of them — 2,672 flights — with Southwest Airlines, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.
In California, hundreds of flights have been delayed or canceled through the end of the week, making up much of Southwest’s schedule.
Passengers sat curbside at Los Angeles International Airport and dozens of flyers lined up at the Hollywood Burbank airport rental car desk, with nearly 100 more waiting inside and outside the installation
Southwest Chief Executive Bob Jordan told the Wall Street Journal that the airline planned to operate at about a third of its usual capacity as it tried to regroup and get the schedule back on track.
“This is the biggest event I’ve ever seen,” he said.
All flights are listed as unavailable on the company’s website as of Tuesday morning. In an email, Southwest spokesman Chris Perry said inventory to book travel is “very low,” but flights are still operating.
In a video posted on Twitter shortly after 5 p.m., Jordan apologized and said the airline is doing everything it can “to return to a normal operation.”
The chief executive said the brutal winter storms that ravaged the county “brought challenges to all airlines” and that Southwest’s operations rely on all the pieces, especially the planes and crews, “that remain in motion toward where it is intended to go.”
With planes and flight crews out of position in dozens of locations, and after trying to operate as much of the flight schedule as possible over the Christmas holiday weekend, the airline “reached a point of decision” to reduce flights to catch up, Jordan. said The airline is focused on putting all the necessary parts back in place safely.
“The tools we use to recover from an outage serve us well 99% of the time, but clearly we need to double down on our existing plans to update systems for these extreme circumstances so that we never again face the what’s happening now.” he said
Southwest will fly a reduced schedule for the next few days and reposition crews and planes, Jordan said. The airline is optimistic that operations will be back up and running before next week.
Andy Robinson waited in line at the Southwest terminal to get a hotel voucher after his flight to Denver was canceled. Robinson, who had been in LA with his family to watch the Denver Broncos play the Rams at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Christmas Day, managed to catch a flight home on Thursday but is being pushed by cancellations and other delays.
“I’m trying to look at it positively. I’m in California,” said Robinson, whose relative suggested they drive to Denver. “I’m wearing flip-flops.”
Elsewhere in Southern California, 18 outbound Southwest flights, or two-thirds of its services, were canceled Tuesday at Hollywood Burbank Airport, according to mobile flight tracker Flightview. John Wayne Airport in Orange County had 51 flights outbound from the Southwest canceled and seven delayed Tuesday morning, while San Diego saw some of the biggest disruptions, with 89 flights outbound from the Southwest west canceled and 28 delayed, according to FlightAware.
Despite paying $60 for an early check-in, Roger and Jane Truesdale were among hundreds of passengers from Burbank on Tuesday whose flights were canceled and were told the earliest they could leave was Saturday .
But the Estes Park, Colo., couple, in town to visit their son for the holidays, didn’t pack enough medicine to last the week. They were looking at other airlines, they said, noting that renting a car or taking a bus was not an option.
“It’s not ideal,” said Roger Truesdale, 77, “but we have to go home and hopefully find a good replacement.”
Southwest Airlines blamed the cancellations on a catastrophic winter storm that ravaged the northern half of the country over the holiday weekend, adding in a statement that “our sincere apologies for this are just the beginning. . .. We recognize that we fell short and sincerely apologize.”
But US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said weather was not the only factor in the Southwest Airlines collision.
“While we all understand that you can’t control the weather, this has clearly crossed the line from an uncontrollable weather situation to something that is the direct responsibility of the airline,” he told reporters.
sense Senate Commerce Committee members Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Southwest should not be able to claim flight cancellations were caused by winter storms recent, which would allow the airline to avoid reimbursing passengers.
The compensation should include not only booked flights, reimbursements, hotel rooms, meals and transportation, but also “substantial monetary compensation for the disruption of their vacation plans,” the two senators said in a statement.
Southwest’s fallout reached the Oval Office, with President Biden tweeting that the airlines would be held accountable and would direct injured travelers to the Department of Transportation’s website to determine whether they are entitled to compensation.
“Our administration is working to ensure airlines are held accountable,” Biden tweeted Tuesday.
The Department for Transport also said it was concerned about the “unacceptable” rate of cancellations and would investigate whether they were controllable.
SSen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said Tuesday that the committee will examine the causes of the outages and their effects on consumers.
“The problems at Southwest Airlines over the past few days go beyond the weather,” Cantwell said in a statement. “Many airlines fail to communicate adequately with consumers during flight cancellations. “Consumers deserve strong protections, including an updated consumer refund rule.”
After driving five hours from Oakland to Los Angeles on Monday after her flight was canceled, Kate Schelter waited in line for hours at LAX’s Southwest Terminal on Tuesday morning trying to get a refund and recover the baggage of his family. Her luggage was brought to Los Angeles even though she and her children, ages 9 and 12, were unable to catch a flight.
But Schelter made a refund: A Southwest Airlines ticket agent said they couldn’t help her and instead offered travel vouchers. “Now I’m going to go ahead with my vacation and probably spend hours on hold on the phone with customer service trying to rectify this,” Schelter said.
Angry and tired travelers flooded in the southwest on Twitter with reports from waiting in long lines which extended outside the airport terminals, missing luggage that in some cases he traveled forward despite canceled flights or piled up unclaimed for days, waiting to customer service calls by hours or disconnecting repeatedlyand trying to navigate a website with errors.
said some passengers they did not receive an email or text message about the status of your flight and instead learned about it through an in-app alert from the company, Flight Aware, or family and friends.
Maria Valenciano Ramos and her husband, Geronima Ramos Jr., had hoped to visit their daughter in Nashville this week, but her Southwest Airlines flight Monday was canceled, they said. They spent three hours on hold with customer service, only to cancel their rebooked flight.
They drove to the airport’s southwest terminal Tuesday morning in desperation and finally rebooked their trip for January. 1, the earliest available flight, with no fixed return date. Other airlines flying a similar route were charging up to $1,600 more per ticket, Geronima Ramos Jr. said. said
“This has changed our entire schedule, all our holidays,” said Valenciano Ramos.
Newly elected LA County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath was stranded in Las Vegas after her Southwest flight back to Los Angeles was canceled. he said on Twitter on Monday evening.
“For … fault @SouthwestAir My only chance to get home is to spend $400+ one way on another airline and get [Tuesday] afternoon (and cancel vet application and work meetings). one Real. Who can afford this? They are not working families or young people who come home once a year for vacation,” Horvath said in a tweet.
Many also questioned the airline’s claim that the weather was to blame, pointing out that other airlines were operating with fewer disruptions and that part of the problem could be a staffing problem.
The Dallas-based airline said it was “fully equipped and ready” for the holiday weekend, but that “operating conditions” caused by the inclement weather that ravaged much of the country “forced daily changes to our flight schedule to a volume and magnitude that it has not yet had. the tools that our teams are using to get the airline back operating at capacity.”
The crippling winter storm hit two of the Southwest’s largest centers, Chicago and Denver, especially hard.
The Department of Transportation said Monday afternoon that it was “worried about the unacceptable rate of the southwest of cancellations and delays,” as well as reports of a “lack of prompt customer service.”
“The Department will examine whether the cancellations were controllable and whether Southwest is complying with its customer care plan,” the agency said in a tweet.
Times staff writers Gregory Yee, Sarah Wire and Courtney Subramanian contributed to this report.