Inclement weather impacted holiday travel plans across the United States in recent days as roadways iced over and airports teemed with passengers whose flights were delayed or canceled.
Although airlines resorted to cancellations for numerous routes due to serious winter storms, one carrier, in particular, represented a disproportionate percentage of those interruptions. On Monday alone, Southwest Airlines represented about 2,900 of the roughly 4,000 domestic flight cancellations.
Similar delays and cancellations dashed travel plans on Tuesday and the airline acknowledged that the inconveniences could continue throughout the rest of the week.
Now, the U.S. Department of Transportation is launching a probe into the root causes behind the company’s dismal record.
USDOT is concerned by Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays & reports of lack of prompt customer service. The Department will examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan.
— TransportationGov (@USDOT) December 27, 2022
Bob Jordan, the company’s CEO, noted that the bad weather conditions caused jets to become stranded in inconvenient locations, thus restricting the carrier’s ability to meet its obligations.
“This is the largest scale event that I’ve ever seen,” he said, explaining that the airline plans to cut roughly two-thirds of its normal flight schedule until the chaos is resolved.
For his part, Southwest spokesperson Jay McVay held a press conference in which he attempted to explain the issues that the airline has faced in recent days.
“So we’ve been chasing our tails, trying to catch up and get back to normal safely, which is our number one priority as quickly as we could,” he said. “And that’s exactly how we ended up where we are today.”
Jordan elaborated on the company’s struggle in a message to employees on Monday, writing that cancellations around the holidays will “have even more impact” on travelers, adding: “But we’ve got to get out of this. We’ve got to get to the point where we’re reliable and we get our Customers, our Crews, our aircraft, everything on track.”
Cancellations by Southwest and other airlines also took a toll on employees, prompting a response by the Transportation Workers Union of America.
According to TWU Local 556 President Lyn Montgomery, reports of stranded crews and employees forced to sleep in airports “are issues that you can’t solve with holiday pay; this is time and quality of life that we will never get back.