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Pete Buttigieg warns Southwest CEO he’ll maintain airline accountable

(CNN) Southwest Airline’s operational meltdown has put the Dallas-headquartered firm underneath severe scrutiny — not solely from stranded passengers and media reviews however from US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as effectively.

He spoke on to Southwest CEO Bob Jordan on Tuesday concerning the hundreds of flights which have been canceled this week with no speedy indication of when passengers can rebook.

“Their system actually has fully melted down,” Buttigieg advised CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday.

“I made clear that our division shall be holding them accountable for his or her tasks to prospects, each to get them by this example and to guarantee that this will’t occur once more.”

Passengers booked with beleaguered Southwest Airways have been hoping for some much-needed aid on cancellations and delays. However these hopes — to date — are being dashed.

Out of the greater than 2,680 cancellations already made for Wednesday, practically all of them belong to Southwest.

All different US airways collectively account for simply roughly 155 of these cancellations.

Newest flight cancellation and delay figures

A take a look at present numbers present why Buttigieg is so involved.

Virtually 3,200 flights inside, into or out of the US have been canceled for Tuesday as of 11:45 pm ET, based on flight monitoring web site FlightAware.

Of these canceled flights, some 2,691 have been these from Southwest. That was nearly two-thirds of all Southwest flights for Tuesday and a surprising 84% of all canceled flights in the US.

In contrast, rivals Alaska Airways had 10% of its flights canceled and United Airways had solely 3%.

Airports most affected by the Tuesday cancellations have been Denver Worldwide, adopted by Harry Reid Worldwide Airport in Las Vegas, Chicago Halfway Worldwide, Baltimore/Washington Worldwide, Nashville Worldwide and Dallas Love Subject.

There have been greater than 7,000 delays as of 11:45 p.m. ET Tuesday.

As we speak’s cancellations adopted a full day of post-Christmas journey chaos, with 3,989 flights canceled on Monday — 2,909 of these being Southwest flights.

Buttigieg takes Southwest to job

Southwest has blamed the journey catastrophe on a mix of things, together with winter storm delays, aggressive flight scheduling and outdated infrastructure.

“From what I can inform, Southwest is unable to find even the place their very own crews are, not to mention their very own passengers, not to mention baggage,” mentioned Buttigieg, including that he additionally spoke with leaders of the airline’s unions representing flight attendants and pilots.

The secretary mentioned he advised CEO Jordan that he expects Southwest to proactively provide refunds and expense reimbursement to affected passengers with out them having to ask.

“I conveyed to the CEO our expectation that they will go above and past to deal with passengers and to handle this,” he mentioned.

Buttigieg advised CNN the Division of Transportation is ready to pursue functions towards Southwest if there may be proof that the corporate has failed to fulfill its authorized obligations, however he added that the division shall be taking a more in-depth take a look at constant customer support issues on the airline.

“Whereas the entire different elements of the aviation system have been shifting towards restoration and getting higher every day, it is really been shifting the wrong way with this airline,” Buttigieg mentioned.

“You have acquired an organization right here that is acquired lots of cleansing as much as do,” he mentioned.

A video apology

Jordan apologized to passengers and staff in a video assertion launched by the corporate on Tuesday night.

“We’re doing the whole lot we will to return to a traditional operation, and please additionally hear that I’m actually sorry,” Jordan mentioned.

Whereas Jordan acknowledged issues with the corporate response, the assertion advised that he didn’t foresee huge adjustments to Southwest’s procedures in response to the mass cancellations.

“The instruments we use to get better from disruption serve us effectively 99% of the time, however clearly we have to double-down on our already-existing plans to improve methods for these excessive circumstances in order that we by no means once more face what’s taking place proper now, mentioned Jordan.

“We’re optimistic to be again on observe earlier than subsequent week.”

So what can Southwest passengers do?

Katy Nastro, spokesperson for Scott’s Low-cost Flights, shares her recommendations on what to do in case your flight is delayed or cancelled.

Southwest has warned that this week’s cancellations and delays are anticipated to proceed for a number of extra days.

So the place does that go away prospects who’re in an actual jam? What ought to they do?

“First issues first, vacationers who’re nonetheless caught ready on Southwest and must get someplace ought to attempt to guide a flight with one other airline as quickly as attainable … proper now, actually,” mentioned Kyle Potter, government editor on the journey recommendation web site Thrifty Traveler, in an e-mail to CNN Journey late Tuesday afternoon.

“Each airline within the nation is jam-packed proper now, so your odds of even discovering a seat — not to mention at an excellent midway first rate value — get smaller by the hour,” Potter mentioned.

“Vacationers within the thick of this could you’ll want to save all their receipts: different flights, a rental automobile, nights on the resort, meals, something,” Potter mentioned.

In case you’ve been left within the lurch and your efforts to succeed in a customer support agent are going nowhere, the founding father of Scott’s Low-cost Flights suggests making an attempt a global quantity.

“The primary hotline for US airways shall be clogged with different passengers getting rebooked. To get by to an agent shortly, name any one of many airline’s dozens of worldwide places of work,” Scott Keyes mentioned.

“Brokers can deal with your reservation similar to US-based ones can, however there’s nearly no wait to get by.”

multiplying issues

Southwest was hit notably laborious due to a cascade of points.

The storm slammed two of its greatest hubs — Chicago and Denver — at a time when winter illnesses have been stretching workers rosters. Southwest’s aggressive schedule and underinvestment have additionally been blamed.

The winter storm that swept throughout the nation was ill-timed for vacationers who had began pushing Christmas week flying numbers again towards pre-pandemic ranges.

On Christmas Day, 3,178 flights have been canceled and 6,870 have been delayed, based on FlightAware. On Christmas Eve, there have been a complete of three,487 flights cancelled, based on FlightAware.

Friday was the worst day of this streak with 5,934 cancellations, whereas Thursday noticed nearly 2,700 cancellations.

Lengthy traces and bag buildups at airports

Vacationers wait at a Southwest Airways baggage counter to retrieve their luggage after canceled flights at Los Angeles Worldwide Airport, Monday, December 26, 2022, in Los Angeles.

Eugene Garcia/AP

On the Southwest ticket counter at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Worldwide Airport on Tuesday morning, lengthy traces have been already increase as vacationers waited to attempt to rebook flights or make connections.

And at Chicago’s Halfway Worldwide, enormous buildups of unclaimed luggage piled up as passengers struggled to reclaim their baggage. There have been comparable scenes at different airports together with Harry Reid in Las Vegas and William P. Passion Airport in Houston.

Passenger Trisha Jones advised CNN on the airport in Atlanta that she and her associate had been touring for 5 days, making an attempt to get house to Wichita, Kansas, after disembarking from a cruise at Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

After her flight out was cancelled, she stayed with kinfolk then rerouted to Atlanta to choose up a connecting flight.

“We have been lucky, as a result of we have been in Fort Lauderdale — my household lives within the Tampa bay space so we have been in a position to hire a automobile to go see my household for Christmas,” Jones mentioned. “We have seen lots of households who’re sleeping on the ground, and it simply breaks my coronary heart.”

Southwest: ‘Hold your receipts’

A spokesperson for Southwest Airways mentioned the current winter storm is guilty for the cascade of cancellations.

“Because the storm continued to comb throughout the nation it continued to influence a lot of our bigger stations and so the cancellations simply compiled one after one other to 100 to 150 to 1,000,” Jay McVay mentioned in a information convention at Houston’s William P. Passion Airport on Monday night time.

“With these cancellations and consequently, we find yourself with flight crews and airplanes which might be misplaced and never within the cities that they have to be in to proceed to run our operations.”

McVay mentioned that the corporate’s first precedence proper now could be security. “We wish to guarantee that we function these flights safely and that we now have the flight crews which have authorized and enough time to function these flights,” he said.

“We’ll do the whole lot that we have to do to proper the challenges that we have had proper now,” he mentioned, together with “inns, trip help, vans … rental automobiles to strive and ensure these of us get house as shortly as attainable.”

He promised that each one prospects, even those that had already left the airport or made alternate preparations on their very own, would even be taken care of.

“In case you’ve already left, deal with your self, do what you might want to do for your loved ones, preserve your receipts,” McVay relayed. “We’ll make certain they’re taken care of, that isn’t a query.”

What’s mistaken from a pilot’s standpoint

Chatting with CNN on Tuesday, the vice chairman of the Southwest Airways Pilots Affiliation, Capt. Mike Santoro, mentioned the issues dealing with Southwest have been the worst disruptions he’d skilled in 16 years on the airline.

He described final week’s storm as a catalyst that helped set off main technical points.

“What went mistaken is that our IT infrastructure for scheduling software program is vastly outdated,” he mentioned. “It will probably’t deal with the variety of pilots, flight attendants that we now have within the system, with our complicated route community.

“We do not have the traditional hub the opposite main airways do. We fly a point-to-point community, which might put our crews within the mistaken locations, with out airplanes.”

He added: “It’s irritating for the pilots, the flight attendants and particularly our passengers. We’re bored with apologizing for Southwest, the pilots within the airline, our hearts exit to the entire passengers, they actually do.”

In different developments

Buffalo, New York, has been particularly hard by the winter storm.

Buffalo, New York, has been notably laborious by the winter storm.

Joed Viera/AFP/Getty Photos

• In hard-hit western New York, Buffalo International Airport mentioned in its most up-to-date tweet that it doesn’t plan to renew passenger flights earlier than 11 am ET Wednesday, pushing again the anticipated reopening by one other 24 hours later than beforehand anticipated.
• Greyhound, the most important supplier of intercity bus service, issued a service alert on Tuesday morning stating a lot of its scheduled companies within the higher northeast continued to be disrupted till additional discover attributable to winter climate. Affected cities embrace Buffalo, Cleveland and Syracuse.

CNN’s Andy Rose, Andi Babineau, Adrienne Broaddus, Dave Alsap, Nick Valencia, David Goldman, Leslie Perrot, Carlos Suarez and Ross Levitt contributed to this story.

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