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Southwest cuts 2,300 more flights in enduring chaos at airports

Southwest Airlines has canceled thiousands of flights nationwide. Although the Long Beach airport did a have a few flights departing the lobby was virtually empty in Long Beach on Wednesday, December 28, 2022. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

Southwest Airlines has canceled more than 2,500 flights nationwide Wednesday as it grapples with a holiday travel boondoggle that U.S. Transportation Secretary Peter Buttigieg called a complete meltdown by the airline. Los Angeles International airport Southwest terminal had piles of luggage waiting to claimed and short lines as most flights were cancelled.(Photo by contributing photographer Chuck Bennett)

Southwest Airlines has canceled more than 2,500 flights nationwide Wednesday as it grapples with a holiday travel boondoggle that U.S. Transportation Secretary Peter Buttigieg called a complete meltdown by the airline. Los Angeles International airport Southwest terminal had piles of luggage waiting to claimed and short lines as most flights were cancelled.(Photo by contributing photographer Chuck Bennett)

Southwest Airlines has canceled more than 2,500 flights nationwide Wednesday as it grapples with a holiday travel boondoggle that U.S. Transportation Secretary Peter Buttigieg called a complete meltdown by the airline. Los Angeles International airport Southwest terminal had piles of luggage waiting to claimed and short lines as most flights were cancelled.(Photo by contributing photographer Chuck Bennett)

Southwest Airlines has canceled more than 2,500 flights nationwide Wednesday as it grapples with a holiday travel boondoggle that U.S. Transportation Secretary Peter Buttigieg called a complete meltdown by the airline. Los Angeles International airport Southwest terminal had piles of luggage waiting to claimed and short lines as most flights were cancelled.(Photo by contributing photographer Chuck Bennett)

Southwest Airlines has canceled more than 2,500 flights nationwide Wednesday as it grapples with a holiday travel boondoggle that U.S. Transportation Secretary Peter Buttigieg called a complete meltdown by the airline. Los Angeles International airport Southwest terminal had piles of luggage waiting to claimed and short lines as most flights were cancelled.(Photo by contributing photographer Chuck Bennett)

Southwest Airlines has canceled more than 2,500 flights nationwide Wednesday as it grapples with a holiday travel boondoggle that U.S. Transportation Secretary Peter Buttigieg called a complete meltdown by the airline. Los Angeles International airport Southwest terminal had piles of luggage waiting to claimed and short lines as most flights were cancelled.(Photo by contributing photographer Chuck Bennett)

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Southwest Airlines continued to extract itself from sustained scheduling chaos Thursday, cancelling another 2,350 flights after a winter storm overwhelmed its operations days ago. The federal government is investigating what happened at Southwest with total cancellations soaring past 10,000 early in the week.

Another wave of canceled flights triggered travel frustrations at Southern California airports and leaving travelers stranded in cities all across the country.

The Dallas carrier acknowledged it has inadequate and outdated operations technology that can leave flight crews out of position when adverse weather strikes.

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Southwest was the only airline unable to recover from storm-related delays that began over the weekend when snow, ice and high winds raked portions of the country.

As has been the case every day this week, the vast majority of flight cancellations nationwide, are Southwest flights.

There were 2,451 flights cancelled before noon Thursday in the U.S., and 2,357 were Southwest routes, or about 58% of its entire schedule, according to the FlightAware tracking service.

The airline has warned that cancellations will continue for days. Southwest added a page to their website specifically for travelers who were stranded, but thousands of customers remain unable to reach the airline.

Long lines greet travelers at airports in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and Riverside counties with people looking for flights on other airlines. Several turned to rental car companies for transportation to their holiday destinations. Some were left waiting on hold for hours waiting for assistance and were sleeping on the floor of airports.

One traveler, Conrad Stoll, a 66-year-old retired construction worker in Missouri told CBS News he was planning to fly from Kansas City to Los Angeles for his father’s 90th birthday, but his Southwest Airlines flight was canceled Tuesday. He won’t be able to see his mother either.

“I went there in 2019, and she looked at me and said, ‘I’m not going to see you again.’ ” Stoll said. “My sister has been taking care of them, and she’s just like, ‘They’re really losing it really quick.’ “

Meanwhile, thousands of passengers and their luggage remained in limbo in Southern California and across the nation as Southwest Airlines continued to scrub the majority of its flights as it worked to recover from a failure in its scheduling systems combined with a devastating winter storm.

A total of 100 inbound and outbound Southwest flights at Los Angeles International Airport were canceled by Wednesday afternoon, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware. Southwest accounted for the bulk of the 126 overall flight cancellations to and from the airport.

Of all the canceled fights on Wednesday in the country, about 86% of them, or more than 2,500, were from Southwest Airlines, according to FlightAware.

The airline has been operating about one-third of usual flight volume as it worked to reset its systems and reposition its aircraft and flight crews, many of which were left out of position as the weather and computer failures combined to devastate Southwest’s operations.

That led to mass cancellations of flights in Southern California and beyond, leaving many passengers stranded, unable to reach their destinations and often unable to even locate their checked luggage.

Of the 2,714 flights canceled nationwide for Wednesday as of 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, 2,504 of them were Southwest flights, according to the flight tracking website FlightAware. The website showed another 2,356 flights were canceled for Thursday.

At Los Angeles International Airport, Southwest canceled 100 flights — about 67% of the flights offered by the airline on Wednesday —  and delayed another seven, according to Flight Aware’s data as of 3:30 p.m. Some flights at that airport were scheduled to leave and arrive on time.

At Hollywood Burbank Airport, 82 inbound and outbound Southwest flights were scrubbed by Wednesday evening. Long Beach Airport saw 61 Southwest flight cancellations, while John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana had 93 Southwest cancellations.

Stranded passengers were left with few alternatives, with the Southwest Airlines’ website listing all flights departing from Southern California airports as “unavailable” through Saturday.

The airline issued an apology to stranded holiday travelers, stating that its operational challenges stem from last week’s historic winter storm.

“With consecutive days of extreme winter weather across our network behind us, continuing challenges are impacting our customers and employees in a significant way that is unacceptable,” according to a Southwest statement. “We’re working with safety at the forefront to urgently address wide-scale disruption by rebalancing the airline and repositioning crews and our fleet ultimately to best serve all who plan to travel with us.”

The airline added, “And our heartfelt apologies for this are just beginning.”

In a video posted online Tuesday afternoon, Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan said that cadence would continue through the week as it works to reposition its crews and airplanes.

“We’re doing everything we can to return to a normal operation,” he said.

“… We always take care of our customers and we will lean in and go above and beyond as they would expect us to,” he said. “… Our plan for the next few days is to fly a reduced schedule and reposition our people and planes, and we’re making headway and we’re optimistic of being back on track before next week. We have some real work to do in making this right.”

Jordan again blamed the “bitter cold” for the problems, but also acknowledged that the airline needs to make improvements in its scheduling systems “so that we never again face what’s happening right now.”

Officials with the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a statement calling the Southwest situation “unacceptable.”

“USDOT is concerned by Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays and reports of lack of prompt customer service,” the department stated. “The department will examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan.”

Jordan said in his video that he has reached out to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to discuss the steps the airline has taken to rectify the issues.

Southwest Airlines said it was fully staffed late last week and prepared for the approaching Christmas weekend when severe weather swept across the continent.

“On the other side of this, we’ll work to make things right for those we’ve let down, including our employees,” the airline stated.

Laura Klees and Mike Ryan, who split time between Southern California and Denver, were left scrambling for a way to Long Beach for a surgery set to happen on Thursday, Dec. 29 ,after their Tuesday evening Southwest flight was canceled.

“Everything just blew up,” Ryan said.

The cheapest flight to Long Beach would have cost $983 for one person, one way, the pair said. Klees joked that a $1,200 flight from Denver to Maui with a 21-hour layover — then a five-hour flight to Long Beach — sounded tempting.

Renting a car was also off the table — with that cost expected to top $800 with the added cost of snow tires the couple would’ve needed to get through the severe storms between Colorado and California.

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Instead, they opted to drive their own all-wheel drive Subaru for the two-day journey — which took longer because of white-out road conditions.

“We’re fortunate that we had a car and we could drive,” Klees said during a phone interview on Tuesday morning, as the pair passed Las Vegas en route to Long Beach. ”We feel fortunate that we had an option.”

Still, Ryan and Klees will have to fork over $160 in gas and another $125 to stay in a hotel in Utah on their unexpected road trip back to Southern California

“This is a huge inconvenience for us to spend two days on the road,” Klees said, noting that while Southwest gave them a credit, she’s hoping for a full refund on her tickets.

Impacted travelers can find more information a southwest.com/traveldisruption.

Staff writer Kristy Hutchings, the Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report.

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