Thousands of Southwest Airlines passengers were stranded at airports across the country Tuesday morning as the landfall of a powerful winter storm that hit much of the country grounded hundreds of flights and disrupted travelers’ holiday travel plans.
Airlines canceled more than 2,800 flights on Tuesday morning, most of them — 2,526 flights — with Southwest Airlines, According to flight tracking website FlightAware.
In California, hundreds of flights were delayed or canceled over the weekend — making up the bulk of Southwest’s schedule.
Passengers sat curbside at Los Angeles International Airport, dozens of pilots lined up at the rental car counter at Hollywood Burbank Airport, and nearly 100 people waited inside and outside the facility.
Southwest CEO Bob Jordan told the Wall Street Journal that the airline plans to operate at about a third of normal capacity as it tries to regroup and get its schedule back on track.
“It’s the biggest event I’ve ever seen.” he said.
All flights were shown as unavailable on the company’s website on Tuesday morning. In an email, Southwest spokesman Chris Perry said inventory was “too low” to book travel, but flights were still operating.
As of 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, at least 60 flights from Los Angeles International Airport were canceled and at least 55 were delayed.
Andy Robinson waited in line at the Southwest terminal for a hotel voucher after his flight to Denver was canceled. Robinson, who was in L.A. to watch the Denver Broncos play the Rams at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Christmas Day, was able to catch a flight home Thursday, but that has been dogged by cancellations and other delays.
“I’m trying to look at it positively. I’m in California,” said Robinson, whose cousin suggested he drive to Denver. “I’m in flip-flops.”
Elsewhere in Southern California, 18 outbound Southwest flights — or about two-thirds of its services — were canceled Tuesday at Hollywood-Burbank Airport, according to mobile flight tracker FlightView. John Wayne Airport in Orange County had 51 Southwest flights canceled and seven delayed Tuesday morning, while San Diego saw the biggest disruptions, with 89 Southwest flights canceled and 28 delayed. According to FlightAware.
Despite paying $60 to check in early, Roger and Jane Truesdale were among hundreds of travelers in Burbank Tuesday whose flights were canceled and they were told Saturday they could leave soon.
But a couple from Estes Park, Colo., who were in town to visit their son for the holidays, didn’t carry enough medicine to last the week. They were looking at other air carriers and were told that renting a car or taking a bus was not an option.
Roger Truesdale, 77, said: “It’s not ideal, but we have to go back home and hopefully find a good replacement.
Southwest Airlines blamed the cancellations on a devastating winter storm that swept across the northern part of the country over the holiday weekend. … We realize the slip and sincerely apologize.
Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), members of the Senate Commerce Committee, said Southwest could not claim flight cancellations due to recent winter storms, which would allow it to be avoided. Reimbursement to passengers.
The compensation includes rebooked flights, refunds, hotel, meals and transportation as well as “significant monetary compensation for the disruption to their vacation plans,” the two senators said in a statement.
Southwest’s meltdown reached the Oval Office, with President Biden writing on Twitter to hold airlines accountable and direct affected passengers to the Department of Transportation’s website to determine if they are eligible for compensation.
“Our administration is working to make sure the airlines are held accountable,” Biden tweeted Tuesday.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Sen. Rep. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said Tuesday that the committee will examine the causes of the disruptions and their impact on consumers.
“Southwest Airlines’ problems over the past few days go beyond the weather,” Cantwell said in a statement. “Many airlines fail to adequately communicate with consumers when a flight is canceled. Consumers deserve stronger protections, including an updated consumer refund clause.
After her flight from Oakland to Los Angeles was canceled Monday, and after a five-hour drive, Kate Schelder waited in line Tuesday morning at the Southwest terminal at LAX trying to get a refund and retrieve her family’s luggage. Although she and her 9- and 12-year-old children were unable to catch the flight, her luggage was flown to LA.
But Shelter failed to get a refund: a Southwest Airlines ticket agent said they couldn’t help her and would instead offer travel vouchers. “I’m now going to push my vacation forward and spend hours on the phone with customer service trying to fix this,” Shelter said.
Angry and tired passengers Southwest flood on Twitter with the statements Waiting in long line It extended beyond the airport terminals, Baggage is missing In some cases that is Traveled forward Despite canceled flights or It has been piling up unclaimed for days waiting for On customer service calls hours or Repeated disconnectionand trying to navigate to a buggy website.
Some passengers said They didn’t get it An email or text message about their flight’s status was instead made known through FlightAware on the company’s app or a notification from family and friends.
Maria Valenciano Ramos and her husband, Jeronima Ramos Jr., had hoped to visit their daughter in Nashville this week, but their Southwest Airlines flight on Monday was canceled, they said. They were on hold with customer service for three hours to cancel their rebooked flight.
Frustrated, they drove to the airport’s Southwest Terminal on Tuesday morning. Ultimately, the earliest available flight was Jan. 1 rebooked their journey. Ramos Jr. said other airlines operating similar routes charge as much as $1,600 per ticket.
“It changed our whole schedule, our whole holidays,” Valenciano Ramos said.
Newly elected L.A. County Supervisor Lindsay Horvath is stranded in Las Vegas after a Southwest flight back to Los Angeles was canceled. she said on Twitter Monday evening.
“Because @SouthwestAir The only option to get home is to spend $400+ one way on another flight to arrive [Tuesday] Afternoon (& Wet Apt & Job MTGS Cancelled). UN Real. Who can afford this? Not working families or young people who go home once a year for the holidays,” Horvath said in a tweet.
Many also questioned the airline’s claim that the weather was the cause. Point out Other airlines operate with less disruption and part of the problem may be staffing issues.
The Dallas-based airline said it was “fully staffed and ready” for the holiday weekend, but that “operating conditions” due to inclement weather in much of the country “forced daily changes to our flight schedule. Our crews still have the tools to restore a capable flight.”
The frozen winter storm hit two of the Southwest’s biggest centers especially hard, Chicago and Denver.
The U.S. Department of Transportation said Monday afternoon that “Concerned by Southwest’s unacceptable rate Cancellations and delays”, as well as reports of “lack of prompt customer service”.
“The department will review whether the cancellation is manageable and whether Southwest is in compliance with its customer service plan,” the company said in a tweet.
Times staff writers Sarah Wyer and Courtney Subramanian contributed to this report.