Southwest Airlines returned to a relatively normal flight schedule on Friday as the carrier sought to make amends with thousands of passengers includingafter a winter storm last weekend.
The Dallas carrier, which had canceled thousands of flights each day this week, reported fewer than 50 cancellations as of early Friday afternoon, according to tracking service FlightAware. While that’s still more than United, American and Delta combined, it marked significant progress after one of the most chaotic weeks in aviation history for a single airline.
Federal regulators have promised a rigorous review of what happened in Southwest, with all eyes on outdated crew-scheduling technology that left flight crews irrelevant after the storm, essentially shutting down nearly all operations of the carrier.
On Friday, however, Southwest passengers reported relatively empty flights, some with one person following, as the carrier shuffled routes and sent planes and crews to where they needed to be.
John and Rosaria Monte had been watching their Southwest flights closely this week as the airline struggled and their hometown of Buffalo, New York dug in for a deadly blizzard. They had no problem flying from Buffalo to Chicago on Friday to see their daughter and enjoy warmer weather in Dallas for New Years.
“My husband kept checking it (the flight schedule) all night and early this morning and everything went accordingly,” Rosaria said. “They were super nice everywhere and that was no problem.”
Don’t blame the weather
US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a letter Thursday evening to Southwest CEO Robert Jordan called the week of disruptions “unacceptable”.
“While weather can disrupt flight schedules, the thousands of cancellations by Southwest in recent days are not due to weather,” Buttigieg wrote. “Other airlines that suffered weather-related cancellations and delays due to the winter storm recovered relatively quickly, unlike Southwest.”
Operational issues at Southwest also played a major role in the company’s maimed flight, according to U.S. Captain Michael Santoro, vice president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association. He pointed to what he described as theclaiming the software was unable to handle the flood of passenger flight cancellations caused by the winter storm.
The system also failed to process South West crew reassignments as the company attempted to reschedule flights, he added.
“You get this snowball effect where he can’t find out where the pilots and the flight attendants and the planes are,”.
At airports across the country, passengers had what could be described as a typical vacation week to travel. It was a stark contrast near the counters of the Southwest Airline, where hundreds of people sat on bags or slept where they could, with the Southwest plane sitting on the tarmac, but unmanned.
The Southwest started accepting bookings again on Friday after rolling out crews and planes, and executives have begun what is no doubt a long road to regaining travellers’ trust.
Southwest’s Robert Jordan said in an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America on Friday that after security, there is no greater goal than to reimburse customers and reunite them with their luggage.
“It impacted so many people, so many customers, over the holidays. It impacted our employees. And I’m extremely sorry about that,” Jordan said. “There’s just no way to apologize enough because we love our customers, we love our employees and we’ve really had an impact on their plans.”
On Friday, Southwest continued to face a deluge of grievances from frustrated passengers affected by the cancellations. “Can’t cancel online and overwhelmed phone line, hope I don’t miss a refund. So disappointed,” one person tweeted.
Yet others have praised the South West staff, with a thanks the “heroic airline employees and crew” for their efforts to get it to its destination on time.
Airline executives said this week it could take up to a week to connect all South West passengers to their destinations.
Jordan warned that this week’s collapse will “certainly” hit the carrier when it releases its fourth quarter financial results in late January. Shares of the company, which have fallen 8% this week, appeared to stabilize on Friday.