Southwest Airlines: Planes return to air; their apologies continue.


The boss of Southwest Airlines vowed to “do good” to passengers hit by his company’s disastrous holiday meltdown, as the carrier made good on Friday’s pledge to continue to provide better service.

“It affected a lot of people — a lot of customers — over the holidays,” CEO Bob Jordan said in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“I am very sorry for this. There’s almost no way to apologize enough.”

Reimbursements for passengers will cover travelers’ expenses, including “rental cars, hotel rooms, meals, booking customers on other airlines — all of that will be part of what we cover,” Jordan said.

“We’re offering a refund, we’re covering the costs – we’ll be back with more after that,” he said. “Besides safety, there is no greater focus at this point than taking care of our customers, reuniting them with their bags and getting their money back.”

The airline’s woes began with a massive, cold winter storm, but extended and even worsened at Southwest as other major airlines recovered. Nearly 15,800 Southwest flights have been canceled since Dec. 22, shaking the company to its core.

“It was an unprecedented storm for everybody — for all the airlines,” Jordan said. “The storm had an impact, but we had impacts outside of the storm that impacted the Southwest very differently.”

Jordan said the airline will operate its full schedule of about 3,900 flights on Friday. It works as promised – things are much, much better.

Flight tracking website FlightAware shows Southwest has been canceled A total of 43 flights by 6:00 PM ET, or just 1% of total flights.

In fact, it’s the best day to fly since the winter storm first hit much of the United States before Christmas. A total of 153 flights were canceled by 18:00 on Friday. As for delays, there were almost 4,400 in the United States. Southwest flew about 755 of those, or about 19% of its flights.

As of Saturday, there were no cancellations in the Southwest as of 6pm on Friday and only 23 for the US.

Southwest has established for customers to submit refund and reimbursement requests for meals, hotels and alternative transportation; as well as to connect customers to their luggage.

Even though the planes are back in the air, there are still mountains of misplaced cargo scattered over the land.

Take the case of Southwest passenger Lisa Carpenter. He’s finally heading home to Phoenix this week after being stranded in Chicago. She said she got a call from Southwest on Friday morning saying her missing luggage had arrived at its original destination and that FedEx would ship the bags to her home.

“My bags made it to Albany, New York, but I didn’t. I don’t know how, but there was no flight for me. I don’t know how it happened, but I didn’t go there to see my family,” Carpenter told CNN.

He also said he plans to get a tracking device for his luggage before traveling again and wants to fly with other carriers.

“I would be very hesitant to book with Southwest again,” he said. “I was alone here and I had to buy new clothes.”

Top US government officials were concerned, to say the least, how Southwest got to this point. And they’re demanding Southwest fix things — or face financial consequences.

On Thursday, the DOT officially warned Southwest that it would face consequences if it failed to make amends to stranded and inconvenienced passengers.

In a letter to Jordan, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said he would take action against the airline if it failed to honor promises to reimburse passengers for alternative transportation, as well as meals, hotels, refunds and baggage reunification.

Penalties include the possibility of fines.

“Failure to fulfill this obligation to passengers would be an unfair and deceptive practice,” Buttigieg wrote, specifically referring to alternative travel payments.

“The Department will use its investigative and enforcement powers to the fullest extent possible to hold Southwest accountable if it fails to honor its promises to reimburse passengers for alternative transportation.”

These fines can be significant.

“The airline told me they would go above and beyond what was required of them,” Buttigieg said Thursday in an interview with NBC News. “I’m looking to make sure they actually do that, and if they don’t, we can fine each passenger tens of thousands of dollars per violation.”

A traveler checks luggage in the baggage claim area inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport on Wednesday.

Ryan Greene, the airline’s chief commercial officer, expressed regret on Thursday about the collapse of services and vowed to restore damaged customer relations.

“My personal apology is the first step in making things right after so many plans have changed and experiences have fallen short of your expectations from us,” Green said in a video.

“We continue to work to fix this for you and you will continue to hear about it soon. But for now, we are focused on restoring the reliability and level of customer experience that we expect from ourselves and that you expect from us.”

His remarks came as Buttigieg gave his stark assessment of the challenges in the South West, calling the situation a complete “meltdown”.

“You’ve got a company doing a lot of cleaning here,” he said.

Ask Southwest Airline employees about their company’s technology. You won’t get many raves.

Although Southwest has grown from a Texas-based discount airline to one of the nation’s largest with three planes, union officials representing Southwest employees say the company has failed to keep pace with technology changes. And they say they’ve been a concern for years.

“We’ve been talking to them every year since 2015,” Southwest Airlines Pilots Association captain and vice president Mike Santoro told CNN.

They and the airline itself described an internal process that required several departments to manually reschedule the airline — a system that works “the vast majority of the time,” the airline said in a statement.

When something goes wrong, Southwest’s software—including its crew scheduling system tool—leaves much of the work of rebuilding this delicate network to manual labor.

Some passengers took it all seriously and showed some sympathy for Southwest.

Several people at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport spoke with CNN’s Nick Valencia Thursday about their experiences traveling with Southwest this holiday season.

“I mean, it’s par for the course. It’s a flight journey, everyone is trying to get everywhere at the same time. “Unfortunately, Southwest has taken the brunt of this year’s travel woes,” Roderick Hister told CNN.

When asked what he thought about the lack of lines at the Southwest counters at the airport, Hister said, “Maybe it speaks to the improvements they want to make, because there are no long lines, people don’t complain here. So, maybe you know, efforts to save themselves are working.

Standing next to Hester, Winston Williams said he intends to use the airline in the future. “I like the Southwest. I mean, the bags are free,” Williams said.

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But many people still take a hard line with Southwest.

Elaine Chao, who served as transportation secretary during the Trump administration, described the Southwest Airlines crash as a “failure of incredible proportions.”

He told CNN that it was “a perfect storm of everything going on at the company. It will take them a long time to rebuild trust with consumers, he added.

Phil Dengler, co-founder of travel advice website The Vacationer, agrees.

“It will take a long time for Southwest Airlines to earn the public’s trust. “While the extreme weather has affected other airlines, Southwest suffered a real collapse at the worst possible time,” he said.

“A large percentage of Americans only fly once a year, and they want a hassle-free experience. I believe that many people will take a break when booking their next flight, and they see Southwest Airlines as the cheapest option,” said Dengler.

“While lower prices are tempting, this downturn will cause many travelers to explore other cheaper options.”

Dengler cautions to be careful with these promised refunds.

“Southwest says we will honor reasonable requests for reimbursement for meals, hotels and alternative transportation,” he said. “I would avoid any expensive hotels or restaurants, although Southwest is uncertain about how much they will charge. Use Google Hotels to find nearby hotels close to the airport where you are staying.”

It also warns against stacking a large tab.

“Do a few Google searches, like ‘Free things to do near me.’ I doubt Southwest will pay for tours or other chargeable activities, so I wouldn’t book expensive excursions that you can’t afford.”

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