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Southwest Airlines outage leaves customers stranded, call centers overwhelmed


(CNN) – Last week’s winter travel mess is lingering like a hangover this week — and the headaches are in migraine proportions for Southwest Airlines and its frustrated passengers on Monday.

More than 3,600 flights into, into or out of the U.S. had already been canceled by 4:10 p.m. ET Monday, according to the flight tracking website FlightAwarewhile almost 5,800 flights were delayed.

But the Southwest accounts for a huge share of them. No other US carrier has canceled nearly as many flights or as much of its schedule as Southwest.

The Dallas-based airline had canceled roughly two-thirds of its flights — about 2,700 in total — as of 4:10 p.m. Monday, according to FlightAware. At one point, it canceled about 300 flights within half an hour on Monday afternoon.

On social media, customers complain loudly for long lines to speak with representatives, lost baggage issues, and excessive wait times or busy signals on airline customer service lines.

Customers wait to rebook their Southwest Airlines flight at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Monday.

CNN

CNN’s Carlos Suarez talks to frustrated passengers in line at the Southwest ticket counter at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Monday.

He reported that about 150 customers waited in a long line at one point to rebook, with the line snaking around the back of the ticket counter.

“Outages in our network”

Southwest responded to the mass cancellations in an emailed statement Monday afternoon:

“With back-to-back days of extreme winter weather across our network behind us, the ongoing challenges are impacting our customers and employees in a significant way that is unacceptable,” the statement said.

“We are working with safety at the forefront to urgently address large-scale disruptions by rebalancing the airline and repositioning crews and ultimately our fleet to best serve everyone who plans to travel with us.”

“On the other hand, we will work to make things right for those we have let down, including our employees.”

In an earlier statement to CNN on Monday, Southwest Airlines said it was “experiencing disruptions to our network as a result of (the winter storm’s) lingering effects on our entire operation.”

Some of the airports with the biggest problem are Denver, Las Vegas, Chicago Midway, Baltimore/Washington and Dallas Love Field, where Southwest operates.

Southwest Airlines outage leaves customers stranded, call centers overwhelmed

Customers faced long lines at Southwest counters Monday at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

WRAL

Calls to Southwest customer service made Monday afternoon by CNN did not go through, so customers could not even get in line to speak with a representative. Southwest told CNN it has “full staff to respond to calls.”

The airline also says “those whose flights have been canceled may request a full refund or receive a non-expiring flight credit.”

A a tweet of Southwest, directing customers to self-service options, had more than 870 responses — many of them angry — as of 4:30 p.m. ET

One response read in part: “Stop blaming the TIME! I had to buy a first class ticket on another airline, but it took off ON TIME! You still have our luggage with medicine inside! I can’t get on the phone!”

Meanwhile, in hard-hit western New York, Buffalo International Airport said in its latest tweet that it plans to resume passenger flights at 11 a.m. ET Tuesday.

The temperature at the airport was 19 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 7 Celsius) around 4 p.m. ET, with light snow falling on top of the heavy amounts already seen in the area.

What can stranded passengers do?

If you’ve been left stranded and your efforts to reach a customer service agent have gone nowhere, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights suggests trying an international number.

“The main hotline for US airlines will be jammed with other passengers being rebooked. To get in touch with an agent quickly, call any of the airline’s dozens of international offices,” said Scott Keyes.

“Agents can handle your booking just like the US-based ones, but there’s virtually no need to wait to get through.”

Is there any relief?

It could be next week before everything is fully resolved.

“With more than 10,000 flight cancellations in the past week, it takes time for airlines to deal with the backlog,” Keyes told CNN Travel in an email.

“While it will depend on the weather forecast (which looks promising for much of the country) and how many travelers cancel their vacation plans, I expect by next week things will be largely back to normal,” Keys said.

And why do so many people have trouble rebooking?

“One complicating factor for people hoping to be rehoused is the fact that there are so few spaces available this season,” Keyes said.

“This is both because Christmas and New Year are some of the most popular times of the year to travel, and because the number of flights on the schedule this year is still down by 15-20%, making the challenge even steeper for those , which need overwriting.”

Bad road conditions

Road travel remains treacherous in some parts of the US due to extreme winter conditions.

In western Erie County in New York state, emergency driving restrictions were lifted in some communities, but stayed put in BuffaloCounty Executive Mark Poloncarz said Monday.

“The City of Buffalo is impassable in most areas, while major roads may have an emergency lane or two open, most minor as well as side streets are still unaffected,” Poloncarz said.

He added that the cleared main roads were mainly for the use of life-saving measures to open areas around hospitals and nursing homes.

Tough past week

The winter storm that hit the U.S. was not well-timed for travelers, who began returning the number of flights during the Christmas week to pre-pandemic levels.

On Christmas Day, there were 3,178 flight cancellations and 6,870 flight delays, according to FlightAware.

There were a total of 3,487 canceled flights on Christmas Eve, according to FlightAware.

Friday was the worst day of that streak with 5,934 cancellations, while Thursday saw almost 2,700 cancellations.

This mega-explosive winter across the eastern two-thirds of the nation is forecast to slowly ease this week.

Further developments on this extraordinary news are to come.

CNN’s Ross Levitt, Chris Boyett and Artemis Moshtaghian contributed to this story.




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