(CNN) – Relief for travelers booked with Southwest Airlines this week is still days away, as the beleaguered airport grapples with what US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg described as a total system breakdown. referred to
In all, Southwest canceled about 15,700 flights as winter weather disrupted air travel on Dec. 22.
Other US airlines have since recovered from storm disruptions.
Southwest does not have interline agreements with other carriers that would allow its agents to book passengers at a different airport, leaving passengers responsible for exploring other options.
Denver International Airport led the number of cancellations Wednesday, with significant cancellations at Chicago-Midway, Baltimore-Washington, Nashville International and Dallas Love Field airports, among others.
Southwest plans to fly a reduced schedule in the next few days to accommodate crews and aircraft, airline CEO Bob Jordan said in a video released by the airline late Tuesday. “We’re optimistic to be back before next week,” Jordan said.
Buttigieg says he spoke directly with Jordan on Tuesday about the thousands of flights that have been canceled this week.
“Their system is really completely broken,” Buttigieg told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday.
“I explained that our department will hold them accountable for their responsibilities to customers, both to get them out of this situation and to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Those responsibilities include providing meal vouchers and hotel accommodations for passengers whose flights were “disrupted as a result of Southwest’s decisions and actions,” a Department of Transportation spokesman said Tuesday.
DOT said U.S. airlines are also required to pay cash to passengers whose flights have been canceled and are not traveling.
Tuesday at a glance
CNN’s Carlos Suarez reports from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, where travelers are braving long lines and flight cancellations after a winter storm swept through the United States.
According to FlightAware, more than 3,200 flights to and from the United States were canceled on Tuesday.
Of those canceled flights, about 2,694 were Southwest — a staggering 84% of all canceled flights in the United States.
Southwest ticket counters at several U.S. airports on Tuesday witnessed long lines of passengers trying to rebook or make connections, while huge piles of unclaimed bags grew. As travelers struggled to retrieve their luggage at airports including Chicago’s Midway International, Harry Reid in Hand. Vegas and William P. Hobby Airport in Houston
Passenger Trisha Jones told CNN at the Atlanta airport that she and her friends had been traveling for five days, trying to get home to Wichita, Kansas, after getting off the cruise in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
After her flight was canceled, she stayed with relatives, then flew to Atlanta to pick up a connecting flight.
“We were lucky, because we were in Fort Lauderdale — my family lives in the Tampa Bay area so we were able to rent a car to go visit my family for Christmas,” Jones said. Jones said. “We’ve seen so many families sleeping on the floor, and it just breaks my heart.”
Buttigieg: ‘A lot of cleaning needs to be done’
Hundreds of bags remain unclaimed at Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) on December 28.
Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Southwest blamed the travel disaster on several factors, including winter storm delays, aggressive flight schedules and aging infrastructure.
“From what I can tell, Southwest can’t even find a place to house their own crews, let alone their passengers, let alone their baggage,” Buttigieg said, adding that he was the airline’s union leader. Also spoke with representatives of flight attendants and pilots.
The secretary said he told CEO Jordan that he expects Southwest to proactively offer refunds and reimbursements to affected passengers without them asking.
“I expressed to the CEO our hope that they would go above and beyond to take care of passengers and make it happen,” he said.
Buttigieg told CNN that the Department of Transportation is prepared to pursue fines against Southwest if there is evidence that the company failed to meet its legal obligations, but he added that the department will continue to monitor customers at the airport. Take a closer look at ongoing service problems.
“While all other parts of the aviation system are moving toward recovery and getting better every day, it’s really moving in the opposite direction with this airport,” Buttigieg said.
“You have a company here that has a lot to clean up,” he said.
Southwest CEO video apologizes
“We’re doing everything we can to get back to normal operations, and please also hear that I’m truly sorry,” Jordan said.
With a large number of aircraft and flight crews “out of position” in dozens of cities, the airline decided to “significantly reduce our flights,” he said.
While Jordan acknowledged problems with the company’s response, the statement suggested that he does not foresee a major change in Southwest’s operating plans in response to the mass cancellations.
“The tools we use to deal with chaos serve us well 99% of the time, but clearly we need to double down on our existing plans to upgrade systems for these extreme conditions so that we never again He didn’t face what’s happening now,” Jordan said.
What can travelers do?
Katie Nistro, spokeswoman for Scott Cheap Flights, shares her tips on what to do if your flight is delayed or canceled.
Southwest has warned that this week’s cancellations and delays are expected to continue for several more days.
So what should buyers do?
“Every airline in the country is overbooked right now, so your odds of finding a seat — let alone a halfway decent price — are diminishing by the hour,” Potter said.
“Travelers in this area should make sure to save all their receipts: other flights, rental cars, hotel nights, meals, everything,” Potter said.
“The main US airlines hotline will be tied up with rebooking other passengers. To reach an agent as soon as possible, call any of the airline’s dozens of international offices,” said Scott Keyes. Keyes said these agents can handle US-based reservations.
Southwest: ‘Keep Your Receipts’
After their flight was canceled, 13 strangers decided to rent a van and drive all the way from Orlando to Knoxville, Tennessee.
Southwest spokesman Jay McVeigh said at a news conference Monday night at William P. Hobby Airport in Houston that the airline will do everything possible to correct the challenges passengers are experiencing, including ” Hotels, ride aids, vans… to try and make rental cars. Make sure these people get home as soon as possible.”
He promised that all customers, even those who have already left the airport or have made alternative arrangements on their own, will be taken care of.
“If you’re already gone, take care of yourself, do what you need to do for your family, keep your receipts,” McVay said. “We’re going to make sure they’re taken care of, that’s not the question.”
What is wrong from the pilot’s point of view?
Passengers check their luggage at Hollywood Burbank Airport in California on Tuesday.
Robin Beck/AFP/Getty Images
He described last week’s storm as the catalyst that helped create major technical issues.
“What went wrong is that our IT infrastructure is too old for scheduling software,” he said. “It can’t handle the number of pilots, flight attendants we have in the system with our complex route network.
“We don’t have a normal hub like other major airlines. We fly a point-to-point network, which can put our crew in the wrong places without the planes.”
He added: “This is frustrating for the pilots, the flight attendants and especially our passengers. We are tired of apologizing for Southwest, the pilots at the airport, our hearts go out to all the passengers. Go for it, they really do.”
CNN’s Gregory Wallace, Andy Rose, Andy Babineau, Adrian Broadus, Dave Allsop, Nick Valencia, David Goldman, Leslie Perot, Carlos Suarez and Ross Levitt contributed to this story.