Updated Dec 29, 2022 - Economy

Southwest Airlines cancellations, delays ramp up again

Newly arrived Southwest Airlines passengers wait for their luggage to arrive at Hollywood Burbank Airport in Burbank, California, on December 27, 2022

Newly arrived Southwest Airlines passengers wait for their luggage on Dec. 27, 2022. Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

Southwest Airlines was responsible for the majority of flight cancellations and delays in the U.S. for the third straight day on Wednesday, signaling that the airline's holiday season troubles aren't over yet.

The latest: Southwest accounted for 2,352 of the 2,419 canceled U.S. flights as of 2:30am Thursday ET, according to FlightAware. Another 52 of its flights were delayed.

  • Southwest canceled 64% of its flights that were scheduled to take off Tuesday, too, per FlightAware data. The airline also had 1,053 delayed flights.
  • Thousands of Southwest flights were canceled and delayed on Monday amid the holiday travel season.

Why Southwest Airlines had delays, canceled flights

The big picture: Southwest's troubles are due to a combination of the extreme winter storms and how the airline's flight routes are structured, per the Wall Street Journal.

  • The airline's crew-scheduling system also crumbled under the pressure of so many recent flight changes.
  • The airline said in a statement Monday that it was "staffed and prepared for the approaching holiday weekend" before the severe weather disrupted its plans.
  • "These operational conditions forced daily changes of an unprecedented volume and magnitude to our flight schedule and the tools our teams use to recover the airline remain at capacity," Southwest said.
  • Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan said Tuesday the plan for the next few days was "to fly a reduced schedule" and the company was "optimistic" it would be back on track before next week.

Zoom in: Travel blog The Points Guy wrote that "staffing and technology problems" sent "the carrier on a downward spiral."

  • "With schedules deteriorating so quickly amid the winter storm, Southwest’s crew scheduling struggled to keep up with the quick changes needed to keep crews and planes in place," The Points Guy reported.

Flashback: Southwest had a similar problem last year. Bad travel weather, a pilot shortage and staffing issues led to many flight cancellations and delays.

What's next: Department of Transportation review

Southwest said it will fly about one-third of its schedule as it works its way through the mess this week.

  • The airline said it's looking to "make things right for those we’ve let down," including its own employees.
  • Southwest has been booking hotels, rental cars and tickets for customers impacted by the delays, Ryan Green, Southwest's chief commercial officer, told the Journal.

Of note: Multiple airlines are working to help travelers get home following the flurry of Southwest Airlines cancellations and delays.

What we're watching: The Department of Transportation said it would review Southwest's actions that contributed to a rough holiday travel weekend.

  • The agency said it was "concerned by Southwest's unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays & reports of lack of prompt customer service" and "will examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan."

What they're saying: U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNN Tuesday he had spoken with Jordan and "made clear that our department will be holding them accountable for their responsibilities to customers, both to get them through this situation and to make sure that this can't happen again."

  • Two Democratic senators said Tuesday that Southwest "is failing consumers" and called on the carrier to "compensate passengers" with rebooked or refunded tickets, hotel and meal reimbursements, and "significant monetary compensation for the disruption to their holiday plans."
  • "Southwest cannot avoid compensating passengers by claiming these flight cancellations were caused by recent winter storms," Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a joint statement.

Southwest refund: How to request or rebook

Details: Southwest opened a self-service tool where customers impacted by travel disruptions through Jan. 2 can request a refund or rebook flights.

Yes, but: Rebooked flight needs to be "in the original class of service or travel standby (within 30 days of your original date of travel between the original city-pairs and in accordance with our accommodation procedures)."

  • The company said customers rebooking will not pay additional fees but that “available inventory is limited during the holidays.”

Southwest reimbursement for hotel, meals and travel

Southwest customers that have their flight canceled or significantly delayed between Dec. 24 and Jan. 2 can submit receipts for reimbursement consideration, the company said.

How it works: Southwest said customers should submit receipts through a link on the website.

  • “We will honor reasonable requests for reimbursement for meals, hotel, and alternate transportation,” the company said on the disruption website.

More from Axios:

Editor's note: This story has been updated with new flight cancellation numbers, a statement from Democratic Sens. Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal, further comment from Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan and details of other airlines' responses.

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