CLEVELAND — Southwest Airlines’ operational meltdown continued into Tuesday as the airline canceled more than 2500 flights — on top of the nearly 3000 flights canceled on Monday — leaving passengers to find a different way of returning home from their holiday destinations. Airline officials anticipate the mass flight cancelations to continue for the next few days, potentially cutting as much as 65% of its typical offering of flights.
The disastrous week of cancelations and delays for Southwest, one of the largest domestic airlines in the US, was initially triggered by an historic winter storm that slammed much of the country, especially two of Southwest’s largest hubs: Chicago Midway and Dallas-Love Field. The winter weather created a domino effect for Southwest, exacerbating existing staffing crunches, tight-turnarounds and outdated technology, aviation experts said.
As of late Tuesday afternoon, all but four Southwest flights into and out of Cleveland-Hopkins had been canceled.
Traveler Rebecca Greder of San Antonio, Texas was determined to get to Cleveland in order to visit her son for the holidays. She is just as determined to get back home — even if it means an extended stay.
“We were to fly out about 11 o’clock last Friday morning. The flight was cancelled. My son and I made the decision to fly into Tampa and then up to Maryland and then rent a car to drive over to Cleveland,” Greder said. “I’m a pretty determined mom to see my son that lives here.”
Greder paid a visit to the Southwest Airlines gate agents, who bluntly told her that she more than likely wouldn’t be leaving Cleveland for another few days.
“I appreciate his transparency and honesty. He said, ‘I’m going to be honest with you, you’re not going getting out of Cleveland with Southwest until the first week of January,’” Greder said. “They are going to refund whatever it costs me to get on another airline and back to Texas.”
Even with the promise of a refund, Greder said the number of available flights out of Cleveland on other airlines was slim as other Southwest customers have booked return flights on Delta, United and others.
Ginny Pischette of Youngstown arrived into Cleveland on Monday night. Her bags, however, never made it.
She wasn’t alone. Dozens of checked bags from a litany of different airports occupied different parts of the baggage claim at Hopkins.
“Well, everything has been okay until this,” Pischette said as she let out a laugh. “And you know I have some expensive clothes — what’s this airline going to do about it? My gosh, what am I supposed to wear until [I get my bags back].”
A USDOT spokesperson issued the following statement regarding Southwest Airlines Tuesday evening:
"The rate of cancellations and delays on Southwest Airlines is unacceptable and dramatically higher than other U.S. carriers. This afternoon, Secretary Buttigieg spoke with the CEO of Southwest Airlines and conveyed that he expects the airline to live up to the commitments it has made to passengers, including providing meal vouchers, refunds, and hotel accommodations for those experiencing significant delays or cancelations that came about as a result of Southwest’s decisions and actions. Southwest, as all airlines, is also obligated to provide a cash refund for passengers whose flights were canceled and decided not to travel.
The Secretary also spoke with union leaders that represent Southwest’s flight attendants and pilots. They conveyed to him that many flight attendants and pilots are stranded alongside passengers, sleeping on cots or having to book their own hotel rooms. He also conveyed to Southwest’s CEO that he expects Southwest to do right by their pilots and flight attendants—and all their workers— in these situations.
The Department will take action to hold Southwest accountable if it fails to fulfill its obligations and we will stay engaged with Southwest Airlines to make sure the airline does not allow a situation like this to happen again."