DOT finds Southwest continuous cancellations after weather calms “unacceptable”

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Low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines is continuously canceling flights over the holiday season even after the forecasted “bomb cyclone” has abated. 

According to flight tracking website FlightAware, more than 2,790 flights in the US were canceled as of 04:00 Eastern Time on December 27, 2022. Among those, 2,487 are operated by Southwest.

Denver International Airport (DEN), Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW), and Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) were the top 3 airports in the US with the most number of flights delayed and canceled.

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has expressed concern over the rate of Southwest’s cancellations, delays and lack of customer service, which it called “unacceptable.” The agency states that it will examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan. 

In an email addressed to employees, Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan said that there will be “several more” tough days that the airline will face ahead. 

Jordan said that Winter Storm Elliot put pressure on the airline’s ground operations. 

“The extreme cold weather made us limit the amount of time our Ground Operations staff were exposed. We started to see equipment freeze, fuel congeal, and as a result, we had to modify our network, sometimes shutting down Crew bases operations for a while,” part of Jordan’s message read. 

At a news conference at Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) on December 26, 2022, a Southwest Airlines spokesperson also told US media that the weather conditions were responsible for the airline’s massive cancellations. 

“As the storm continued to sweep across the country, it continued to impact many of our larger stations and so the cancellations just compiled one after another to 100 to 150 to 1,000,” the spokesperson said, quoted by CNN news

The representative also said that all affected customers, including those who had already left the airport or made arrangements on their own, would be taken care of by Southwest.

The cancellations have caused an angry backlash from Southwest customers whose holiday plans are affected, with police having to get involved in an altercation between an airline staff member and a passenger at Burbank airport. In the United States, employees are, on average, given 10 days of paid leave per year.

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