The airline has cancelled over 5,000 flights thus far, and won’t have any leaving SoCal until December 31.

Southwest Airlines Cancels Thousands of Flights Resulting in a Complete Travel Meltdown
Piles of Lost unclaimed luggage at airport as supply chain and employee strike action causes delays and baggage handling shortages. Passengers waiting hours to reclaim their belongings

With the bomb cyclone punishing most of the US, we all knew holiday travel was going to be a mess. But the complete and utter meltdown Southwest Airlines is currently having is unprecedented. According to FlightAware, Southwest canceled more than 2,900 flights Monday—at least 70% of its schedule for the day—and more than 2,500 flights Tuesday as of 11:00 a.m. PST —at least 60% of its schedule. And there seems to be no end in sight.

Denver International Airport has by far the most cancelled and outbound flights, but the impact can be seen across the West and throughout the country. The storm hit both Chicago and Denver particularly hard, where Southwest has two of its biggest hubs, resulting in a cascading effect of an utter travel nightmare. Lost luggage, 8-hour long lines to reach customer service desks, and unending delays and cancellations are just some of the difficulties weary travelers are facing.

There’s also the fact that many airlines still remain understaffed after the pandemic, with a major shortage of ground personnel, flight crew, and customer care associates. Considering we are in a surge of a “tripledemic” with whoever is staffed calling out, it’s a recipe for disaster for the airline. Southwest, the nation’s largest domestic carrier, won’t be able to fully resume its service until Friday, and will not be rebooking cancelled flights until then. Only a third of their flights are currently operating, leaving travelers virtually stranded.

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To make matters worse, “The phone system the company uses is just not working,” Lyn Montgomery, President of TWU Local 556, told CNN. “They’re just not manned with enough manpower in order to give the scheduling changes to flight attendants, and that’s created a ripple effect that is creating chaos throughout the nation.”

Even the US Department of Transportation has criticized the situation, stating that, “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.” (You can read the airline’s customer service plan here.)

If Southwest does in fact keep good on their word of reimbursing meals, hotels, and reasonable transportation expenses, they’re going to have some hefty bills on their hands in the New Year. (Will we be saying goodbye to their $59 airfares for the foreseeable future?) As far as best practices for what to do if you are caught in the mess, there’s not much that can be controlled. Many folks are opting to rent cars and drive to another hub or all the way home. If you do decide to roll the dice and rebook your flight either on Southwest or another carrier, the best bet is likely to book the first flight in the morning, to make the most of your day. If you can afford to rebook with another airline and hang on to your Southwest credit, that may be your best bet.

But whatever you decide to do, try your best to keep calm and travel on.

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