Southwest hopes to resume normal operations on Friday

After days of chaos, canceled flights and stranded travelers, Southwest Airlines said Friday it plans to resume normal operations with “minimal disruption.”

But it remains unclear how long it will take for passengers stranded for days to reach their final destinations, reconnect with luggage or receive compensation for the week-long accident.

“With another holiday weekend full of important connections for our valued customers and employees, we are eager to get back to normal,” the airline said in a statement Thursday.

Southwest was only able to fly a third of its normal schedule Thursday, canceling 2,362 flights, according to flight tracker FlightAware. By Thursday afternoon, 53 flights at Los Angeles International Airport had been canceled — most of them Southwest — with 54 inbound flights and dozens more listed as delayed.

According to FlightAware, the Dallas carrier canceled fewer than 40 flights scheduled for Friday domestically, less than 1% of the day’s total schedule.

The airline has been in trouble since last week, when a winter storm ravaged much of the country, disrupting travel plans and causing widespread flight disruptions.

Although much of the industry recovered relatively quickly, the Southwest was left in turmoil for days.

At a time when cancellations were high, the southwest gates and terminals at LAX and other regional airports were packed with passengers arriving for flights. Many travelers queued for hours for help.

By Thursday, the chaos at the terminals had subsided; The Southwest terminal at LAX was pretty quiet, although baggage claim was packed with lots of closed bags around the empty carousels.

At the ticket office, a handful of travelers checked in for their flights. They were lucky: 15 of the 24 departures shown on the screens were cancelled.

Patricia Bernard, 60, of Laurel, Md., planned to spend Christmas with her family in Los Angeles.

After the flight mix-up, he booked a direct flight southwest from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on the morning of December 23.

“I got there at 4 a.m. to hear my flight was canceled — no notification, nothing,” Bernard said.

Southwest has rebooked it for December 26 – meaning it will miss Christmas. Instead, Bernard’s children found him a flight on another airline and he arrived on time.

Now a week later, Bernard, waiting in the terminal with his grandson for a Southwest flight home, said it could be his last by air.

“Their customer service leaves a lot to be desired,” he said. “I’m switching to Delta.”

Public relations and crisis management experts say that while the company will immediately try to resolve complaints, refund requests and scheduling issues for its passengers, building up its reputation will be just as important for Southwest to not lose loyal customers.

“Unless we demonstrate to customers that this Southwest Airlines issue is being addressed, the carrier risks letting this snowball into a significant problem that will negatively affect the brand for years to come,” said crisis and Eric Rose. Reputation management expert at Los Angeles communications firm EKA.

According to FlightAware, the airline has canceled more than 13,000 flights since Dec. 22, more than 50% of its schedule, and many more have been delayed. The massive disruptions have affected thousands of fliers, leaving them stranded at dozens of airports across the country without luggage or digging into their pockets to find alternative travel options, fueling demand for rental cars. The chaos overwhelmed workers, including pilots, flight attendants and gate agents.

“We know even our deepest apologies – to our customers, employees and anyone affected by this disruption – only go so far,” the company said in a statement. “We have a lot of work ahead of us, including investing in new solutions to manage large-scale breaches.”

The airline has launched a new website for customers to submit refund and reimbursement requests for meals, hotels and alternative transport and to contact baggage.

A day after chief executive Bob Jordan apologized for the flyers, chief commercial officer Ryan Green doubled down. promises the company “We will do everything we can and work around the clock to fix our relationship with you.”

“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,” he said.

The company is the nation’s largest low-cost carrier with routes to various airports in California, including Los Angeles, Oakland, Burbank, Sacramento, San Diego and San Jose.

A devastating winter storm blasted the country just before Christmas, throwing holiday plans into chaos. Industry experts and company union leaders said Southwest’s fiasco was a “perfect storm” of well-known issues. They cited the company’s antiquated technology and vulnerable operations, which are particularly vulnerable to disruptions, much less coast-to-coast weather events.

Union leaders pointed out that Southwest resumed dividend payments to shareholders this month for the first time since the pandemic. The company paid out $428 million to shareholders — money critics say would have been better spent upgrading the carrier’s aging technology.

Experts explained that the US airline giant operates on a unique flight pattern – planes fly from destination to destination instead of coming in and out of certain hubs – which leaves little room for error. It has no partnerships with other airlines to assist with rebookings and operates with few open seats or reserve staff. Delays can spiral quickly.

Aggrieved passengers continued to flood Southwest on social media Thursday about missing luggageacquisition issues alternative travel is paidand even getting difficulties necessary medicine.

The airline said it will respond to “substantial requests for reimbursement of food, hotel and alternative transportation expenses” between December 24 and January 2. Southwest leaders also announced a series of updates to the company’s websites for affected travelers, including features that allow fliers traveling Jan. 2 to change their itineraries online, forms to help travelers locate lost luggage, and refunds for cancellations or expenses incurred. pointed to return request forms. for violation.

Danielle Pientka said she waited eight hours for a Southwest agent this week — and still couldn’t get through. Her mother’s flight home to San Antonio was canceled Monday without warning, and the next available flight was five days later.

“We’re usually big fans of Southwest … so this was a pretty big disappointment for us,” said Pientka, who lives in the Baltimore suburbs. “We know that things happen in airlines. We can plan for a day or two, but it was almost a week.

The crisis has led to increased pressure from current and former lawmakers and consumer advocates who are calling on the company to not only help stranded travelers, but also ensure they are properly compensated.

Elaine Chao, President Trump’s Transportation Secretary, he told “CNN This Morning” on Thursday Southwest was once a “paragon” in the airline industry in part because of customer and labor relations — all of which have been “questioned,” he said.

“They know they will have a lot of work to do to win back and restore the loyalty and trust they once had with the traveling public,” Chao said. “They will be under the control of regulators and administration. They have a lot on their plates.”

Pete Buttigieg, the current Secretary of Transportation, said this “Good Morning America” ​​on Wednesday that the mass cancellation crisis “indicates a system failure” and that the agency will “closely monitor” Southwest to ensure it meets its customer service obligations. Southwest’s reimbursement for passengers should cover flights as well as meals, lodging and ground transportation because “it’s the airline’s responsibility,” he said.

Charlie Leocha, president of the consumer advocacy group Travel UnitedHe called Southwest one of the more “honorable airlines” but said he had questions about the airline’s plans to reimburse travelers for additional costs beyond the canceled fares.

“I don’t know how that would work because they said it would be reasonable,” Leocha said, adding that the wording was ambiguous and could favor the airline.

Chase Lovelace, 30, of Nashville, and his wife arrived four hours early Thursday at LAX for their Southwest flight home. They were worried the airport would be busy given the recent chaos, but instead found a nearly empty ticketing area.

“We were supposed to leave the day after Christmas,” Lovelace said. “This was the first flight they could book us on again.”

After spending the whole day at the airport on Monday, the couple decided to book a hotel on their own.

“We’re keeping the receipts, hoping to get a refund when they figure it out,” Lovelace said.

Asked if he would prefer alternative airlines for future travel, Lovelace was silent: “Get us home first. … Maybe they’re updating their systems and we’re stuck with them.”

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