The Department of Transportation (DOT) announced it will launch an investigation into scores of flight cancellations by Southwest Airlines as harsh winter weather swept the nation over the Christmas holiday.
Thousands of flights were grounded due to the storms that killed dozens, but the vast majority of the cancellations were by only one airline. Flight tracking website FlightAware reported that roughly 4,000 domestic trips were canceled on Monday.
Of those, 2,900 were by Southwest Airlines. The rate of cancellations picked up speed early Tuesday with another almost 2,500 grounded by only 5 a.m.
The beleaguered carrier defended its actions at a Houston press conference, saying that the situation snowballed over the weekend. Spokesman Jay McVay said Southwest has been “chasing our tails, trying to catch up and get back to normal safely.”
Long lines formed at customer service counters across the nation as thousands tried to book new flights to reach their holiday destinations. Meanwhile, the DOT tweeted that Southwest’s rate of cancellations and delays was “unacceptable.”
Southwest plans to operate just one-third of its schedule "for the next several days".
"We recognize falling short and sincerely apologize."
The DOT said it would look into whether SWA could have mitigated the "unacceptable rate of cancellations".https://t.co/NCdbad8LJn
— Grace Dean (@graceldean) December 27, 2022
It further noted a “lack of prompt customer service.” The DOT statement said that it will probe whether Southwest could have done anything about the groundings and whether its actions were aligned with its customer service plan.
Interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, Southwest CEO Bob Jordan admitted the airline was operating just over a third of its normal flight schedule. He called the Christmas holiday storm “the largest scale event that I’ve ever seen.”
Over 70% of its Monday flights were canceled followed by more than 60% on Tuesday. For comparison, the industry overall grounded roughly 20% of its flights on Saturday and Sunday.
And American, United, Delta, and JetBlue reported cancellations between zero and 2% by Tuesday.
Southwest Captain Casey, the president of the union representing its pilots, blamed management for not updating software written in the 1990s. He declared that the frustrating situation was completely avoidable, but the airline could not connect crews to airplanes.
Weather delays and cancellations are bound to occur when a major winter storm sweeps the nation and falling in the Christmas travel season only made it worse. But for one airline to fail so miserably at taking its customers to their destinations, as the DOT declared, is wholly unacceptable.