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Southwest flights back in the air at Southland airports after weeklong holiday meltdown

Southern California’s holiday flyers — as well as those nationwide — received a bit of a reprieve from the logistical turbulence that has marred the final days of the holiday travel season, with Southwest Airlines on Friday, Dec. 30, managing to get the majority of its scheduled flights off the tarmac following a weeklong internal collapse that led to mass cancellations and left thousands stranded.

The day before, Southwest canceled more than 2,300 flights nationwide, adding to the swath of scrubbed trips that had piled up since the airline’s internal collapse — spurred by outdated software unable to handle the operational issues caused by a brutal winter storm — began on the eve of the busiest holiday travel season.

In total, the airline had canceled about 13,000 flights and delayed thousands more since Dec. 23.

After a miserable week and hundreds of canceled flights, Southwest vowed to return to normal operations on Friday at Southern California airports including Los Angeles International Airport where things looked normal Friday morning December 30, 2022. (Photo by contributing photographer Chuck Bennett)

After a miserable week and hundreds of canceled flights, Southwest vowed to return to normal operations on Friday at Southern California airports including Los Angeles International Airport where things looked normal Friday morning December 30, 2022. (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)

People wait to retrieve their luggage at Hollywood Burbank Airport, Tuesday, Dec 27, 2022. Major U.S. airlines were broadsided by the massive weekend winter storm most airlines have recovered but Southwest Airlines is still effected with cancellations. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Passengers check the monitors at Long Beach Airport as Southwest Airlines has canceled hundreds of flights, departing from airports across Southern California including Long Beach on Tuesday, December 27, 2022. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

Many airplanes are on the ground as Southwest Airlines has canceled hundreds of flights, departing from airports across Southern California including Long Beach on Tuesday, December 27, 2022. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

Luggage piles up in the Southwest terminal Tuesday, at Los Angeles International Airport. {Photo by Gene Blevins / Contributing Photographer]

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Southwest  — under scrutiny from passengers, employees, and local and federal officials — announced Thursday that it planned to return to normal operation with “minimal disruption” by Friday.

The airline, officials said, scaled down its fleet to accomplish that — opting to operate just one-third of its usual flights over the past week in hopes of allowing its fraught system to catch up.

“We have much work ahead of us, including investing in new solutions to manage wide-scale disruptions,” the airline said in a Thursday statement. “We aim to serve our customers and employees with our legendary levels of Southwest hospitality and reliability again very soon.”

Southwest’s scaled-back solution appeared to ease much of the tension — with the airline cancelling just 43 flights nationally, or about 1% of its total schedule, as of Friday morning, according the flight tracking website FlightAware. Another 309 flights were delayed across the country.

“We appreciate the dedicated work of the Southwest Team to restore our schedule, and we anticipate minimal disruptions for the weekend,” the company said in a Friday statement. “Once again, we value the continued patience and support of our valued customers, and we apologize for the inconveniences of the past week.”

All Southwest flights out of Los Angeles International Airport were scheduled to depart and arrive on time as of Friday morning, according to FlightAware, marking the first time without cancellations at that airport since last weekend. There were also no canceled Southwest flights at the Hollywood Burbank Airport or Santa Ana’s John Wayne Airport as of Friday afternoon.

At the Long Beach Airport, Southwest reported just three canceled trips — with another two cancelled at the Ontario International Airport in San Bernardino County.

“We’re seeing mostly normal operations here,” LGB spokesperson Kate Kuykendall said Friday morning. “We did have a few flights that canceled earlier this morning — but the vast majority of the flight arrivals and the departures from Southwest Airlines are fine as scheduled — and we do not have phone lines, so at this particular moment, everything is going pretty smoothly.”

It’s much the same at the Burbank Airport, according to spokesperson Mike Christensen, who said Southwest had 101 flights scheduled to depart from and arrive at the airport Friday.

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“It’s in the same range as what we normally would have (on a Friday) for the first time since last weekend,” Christensen said, noting that the airport appeared as busy as it normally would on a Friday — after seeing empty terminals throughout the week as passengers stayed away amid the cancellations.

Southwest’s operations had also returned to relative normalcy at John Wayne Airport on Friday morning, according to airport spokesperson AnnaSophia Servin.

Airline staff had been working long hours, Servin added, to help passengers reunite with their luggage, rebook flights, and find lodging accommodations in the meantime.

In Ontario, though, flight interruptions continued — although to a lesser extent, according to airport spokesperson Steve Lambert.

“According to FlightAware, there have been 30 cancellations into or out of ONT in the past 24 hours,” Lambert said via email on Friday. “Most have involved Southwest.”

It’s not clear how quickly things could get back on track there — though there were only two reported Southwest cancellations reported at Ontario on Friday afternoon.

“We couldn’t predict, at this point, when things will return to normal,” Lambert said. “Travelers should check with their airlines before coming to the airport, just to make sure.”

Staff writer Tyler Shaun Evains and City News Service contributed to this report. 

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