Southwest Airlines flight cancellations continue to snowball

Dec 27, 2022, 6:18 PM | Updated: Dec 28, 2022, 3:26 pm
Hundreds of Southwest Airlines checked bags are piled at baggage claim at Midway International Airp...

Hundreds of Southwest Airlines checked bags are piled at baggage claim at Midway International Airport as Southwest continues to cancel thousands of flights across the country Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)

(AP Photo/Erin Hooley)

              Hundreds of Southwest Airlines checked bags are piled at baggage claim at Midway International Airport as Southwest continues to cancel thousands of flights across the country Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)
            
              A Southwest Airlines employee helps a traveler search for bags amongst hundreds of other checked bags at baggage claim at Midway International Airport as Southwest continues to cancel thousands of flights across the country Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)
            
              A Southwest Airlines employee helps a traveler search for bags amongst hundreds of other checked bags at baggage claim at Midway International Airport as Southwest continues to cancel thousands of flights across the country Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)
            
              A Southwest Airlines jet arrives at Sky Harbor International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Phoenix. Travelers who counted on Southwest Airlines to get them home suffered another wave of canceled flights Wednesday, and pressure grew on the federal government to help customers get reimbursed for unexpected expenses they incurred because of the airline’s meltdown. (AP Photo/Matt York)
            
              A worker pauses while sorting through a pile of unclaimed luggage cordoned off by caution tape inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              A person works behind the Southwest Airlines ticket counter inside St. Louis Lambert International Airport Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. Families hoping to catch a Southwest Airlines flight after days of cancellations, missing luggage and missed family connections suffered through another wave of scrubbed flights, with another 2,500 pulled from arrival and departure boards Wednesday.  (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              A Southwest Airlines ground operations crew member waits to guide an arriving jet into a gate, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. Travelers who counted on Southwest Airlines to get them home suffered another wave of canceled flights Wednesday, and pressure grew on the federal government to help customers get reimbursed for unexpected expenses they incurred because of the airline’s meltdown. (AP Photo/Matt York)
            
              A person walks through luggage piled up around an unmoving baggage carousel inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              A traveler looks at luggage in the baggage claim area inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              A worker pauses while sorting through a pile of unclaimed luggage cordoned off by caution tape inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              Wheelchairs and caution tape restrict access the baggage claim area and piles of luggage inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              A pilot rides an escalator down to the baggage claim area inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              A person works behind the Southwest Airlines ticket counter inside St. Louis Lambert International Airport Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. Families hoping to catch a Southwest Airlines flight after days of cancellations, missing luggage and missed family connections suffered through another wave of scrubbed flights, with another 2,500 pulled from arrival and departure boards Wednesday.  (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              A Southwest Airlines jet arrives at Sky Harbor International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Phoenix. Travelers who counted on Southwest Airlines to get them home suffered another wave of canceled flights Wednesday, and pressure grew on the federal government to help customers get reimbursed for unexpected expenses they incurred because of the airline’s meltdown. (AP Photo/Matt York)
            
              A Southwest Airlines ground operations crew member moves unused luggage carts past an idle jet sitting on the tarmac, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. Travelers relying on Southwest Airlines to get them home experienced another wave of canceled flights Wednesday as pressure grew on the federal government to help customers get reimbursed for unexpected expenses they incurred because of the airline's meltdown.(AP Photo/Matt York)
            
              A Southwest Airlines jet arrives at Sky Harbor International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Phoenix. Travelers who counted on Southwest Airlines to get them home suffered another wave of canceled flights Wednesday, and pressure grew on the federal government to help customers get reimbursed for unexpected expenses they incurred because of the airline’s meltdown. (AP Photo/Matt York)
            
              A Southwest Airlines jet passes unused luggage carts as it arrives, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. Travelers who counted on Southwest Airlines to get them home suffered another wave of canceled flights Wednesday, and pressure grew on the federal government to help customers get reimbursed for unexpected expenses they incurred because of the airline’s meltdown. (AP Photo/Matt York)
            
              A Southwest Airlines jet arrives at Sky Harbor International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Phoenix. Travelers who counted on Southwest Airlines to get them home suffered another wave of canceled flights Wednesday, and pressure grew on the federal government to help customers get reimbursed for unexpected expenses they incurred because of the airline’s meltdown. (AP Photo/Matt York)
            
              A Southwest Airlines employee helps a traveler search for bags amongst hundreds of other checked bags at baggage claim at Midway International Airport as Southwest continues to cancel thousands of flights across the country Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)
            
              A Southwest Airlines employee helps travelers search for bags amongst hundreds of other checked bags at baggage claim at Midway International Airport as Southwest continues to cancel thousands of flights across the country Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)
            
              Hundreds of Southwest Airlines checked bags are piled together at baggage claim at Midway International Airport as Southwest continues to cancel thousands of flights across the country Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)
            
              A Southwest Airlines employee helps a traveler search for bags amongst hundreds of other checked bags at baggage claim at Midway International Airport as Southwest continues to cancel thousands of flights across the country Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)
            
              Ashlyn Harmon of New Orleans searches for her Southwest Airlines bags amongst hundreds of others at Midway International Airport as Southwest continues to cancel thousands of flights across the country Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Chicago. Harmon said her family's initial Southwest flight was cancelled on Christmas so they rebooked on American Airlines, although Southwest still shipped their bags to Midway. "We rebooked ourselves," she said. "I figure we can deal with refunds and all of that when we get back." She was searching for her own bag, which contains medication for her young son. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)
            
              Rebekah Isaak of Chicago smiles as she learns her bags may have returned to Chicago from Denver as she searches amongst hundreds of other Southwest Airlines checked bags at baggage claim at Midway International Airport as Southwest continues to cancel thousands of flights across the country Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Chicago. Isaak's flight to Colorado was cancelled so she never left Illinois. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)
            
              Hundreds of Southwest Airlines checked bags are piled together at baggage claim at Midway International Airport as Southwest continues to cancel thousands of flights across the country Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)
            
              A ground operations crew member walks past a Southwest Airlines jet sitting idly at a gate, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. Travelers who counted on Southwest Airlines to get them home suffered another wave of canceled flights Wednesday, and pressure grew on the federal government to help customers get reimbursed for unexpected expenses they incurred because of the airline’s meltdown. (AP Photo/Matt York)
            
              A Southwest Airlines ground operations crew member waits to guide an arriving jet into a gate, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. Travelers who counted on Southwest Airlines to get them home suffered another wave of canceled flights Wednesday, and pressure grew on the federal government to help customers get reimbursed for unexpected expenses they incurred because of the airline’s meltdown. (AP Photo/Matt York)
            
              A person walks through luggage piled up around an unmoving baggage carousel inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              A traveler looks at luggage in the baggage claim area inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              A worker pauses while sorting through a pile of unclaimed luggage cordoned off by caution tape inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              Wheelchairs and caution tape restrict access the baggage claim area and piles of luggage inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              A pilot rides an escalator down to the baggage claim area inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              A person works behind the Southwest Airlines ticket counter inside St. Louis Lambert International Airport Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. Families hoping to catch a Southwest Airlines flight after days of cancellations, missing luggage and missed family connections suffered through another wave of scrubbed flights, with another 2,500 pulled from arrival and departure boards Wednesday.  (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              A Southwest Airlines jet arrives at Sky Harbor International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Phoenix. Travelers who counted on Southwest Airlines to get them home suffered another wave of canceled flights Wednesday, and pressure grew on the federal government to help customers get reimbursed for unexpected expenses they incurred because of the airline’s meltdown. (AP Photo/Matt York)
            
              A Southwest Airlines ground operations crew member moves unused luggage carts past an idle jet sitting on the tarmac, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. Travelers relying on Southwest Airlines to get them home experienced another wave of canceled flights Wednesday as pressure grew on the federal government to help customers get reimbursed for unexpected expenses they incurred because of the airline's meltdown.(AP Photo/Matt York)
            
              A Southwest Airlines jet arrives at Sky Harbor International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Phoenix. Travelers who counted on Southwest Airlines to get them home suffered another wave of canceled flights Wednesday, and pressure grew on the federal government to help customers get reimbursed for unexpected expenses they incurred because of the airline’s meltdown. (AP Photo/Matt York)
            
              A Southwest Airlines jet passes unused luggage carts as it arrives, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. Travelers who counted on Southwest Airlines to get them home suffered another wave of canceled flights Wednesday, and pressure grew on the federal government to help customers get reimbursed for unexpected expenses they incurred because of the airline’s meltdown. (AP Photo/Matt York)
            
              A Southwest Airlines jet arrives at Sky Harbor International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Phoenix. Travelers who counted on Southwest Airlines to get them home suffered another wave of canceled flights Wednesday, and pressure grew on the federal government to help customers get reimbursed for unexpected expenses they incurred because of the airline’s meltdown. (AP Photo/Matt York)
            
              A Southwest Airlines employee helps a traveler search for bags amongst hundreds of other checked bags at baggage claim at Midway International Airport as Southwest continues to cancel thousands of flights across the country Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)
            
              A Southwest Airlines employee helps travelers search for bags amongst hundreds of other checked bags at baggage claim at Midway International Airport as Southwest continues to cancel thousands of flights across the country Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)
            
              Hundreds of Southwest Airlines checked bags are piled together at baggage claim at Midway International Airport as Southwest continues to cancel thousands of flights across the country Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)
            
              A Southwest Airlines employee helps a traveler search for bags amongst hundreds of other checked bags at baggage claim at Midway International Airport as Southwest continues to cancel thousands of flights across the country Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)
            
              Ashlyn Harmon of New Orleans searches for her Southwest Airlines bags amongst hundreds of others at Midway International Airport as Southwest continues to cancel thousands of flights across the country Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Chicago. Harmon said her family's initial Southwest flight was cancelled on Christmas so they rebooked on American Airlines, although Southwest still shipped their bags to Midway. "We rebooked ourselves," she said. "I figure we can deal with refunds and all of that when we get back." She was searching for her own bag, which contains medication for her young son. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)
            
              Rebekah Isaak of Chicago smiles as she learns her bags may have returned to Chicago from Denver as she searches amongst hundreds of other Southwest Airlines checked bags at baggage claim at Midway International Airport as Southwest continues to cancel thousands of flights across the country Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Chicago. Isaak's flight to Colorado was cancelled so she never left Illinois. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)
            
              Hundreds of Southwest Airlines checked bags are piled together at baggage claim at Midway International Airport as Southwest continues to cancel thousands of flights across the country Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)
            
              A ground operations crew member walks past a Southwest Airlines jet sitting idly at a gate, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. Travelers who counted on Southwest Airlines to get them home suffered another wave of canceled flights Wednesday, and pressure grew on the federal government to help customers get reimbursed for unexpected expenses they incurred because of the airline’s meltdown. (AP Photo/Matt York)
            
              A Southwest Airlines ground operations crew member waits to guide an arriving jet into a gate, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. Travelers who counted on Southwest Airlines to get them home suffered another wave of canceled flights Wednesday, and pressure grew on the federal government to help customers get reimbursed for unexpected expenses they incurred because of the airline’s meltdown. (AP Photo/Matt York)
            
              A pilot rides an escalator down to the baggage claim area inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              Wheelchairs and caution tape restrict access the baggage claim area and piles of luggage inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              A worker pauses while sorting through a pile of unclaimed luggage cordoned off by caution tape inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              A person walks through luggage piled up around an unmoving baggage carousel inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              A traveler looks at luggage in the baggage claim area inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              A pilot rides an escalator down to the baggage claim area inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              Wheelchairs and caution tape restrict access the baggage claim area and piles of luggage inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              A worker pauses while sorting through a pile of unclaimed luggage cordoned off by caution tape inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              A person walks through luggage piled up around an unmoving baggage carousel inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              A traveler looks at luggage in the baggage claim area inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              A pilot rides an escalator down to the baggage claim area inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              Wheelchairs and caution tape restrict access the baggage claim area and piles of luggage inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              A worker pauses while sorting through a pile of unclaimed luggage cordoned off by caution tape inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              A person walks through luggage piled up around an unmoving baggage carousel inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              A traveler looks at luggage in the baggage claim area inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
            
              Travelers wade through the line for service at the Southwest Airlines check-in counter in Denver International Airport, Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              A Southwest Airlines jetliner head down a runway for take off from Denver International Airport Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              A traveler sleeps on a bench near the Southwest Airlines check-in counter at Denver International Airport, Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              Brittany Kirk, 41, who arrived in Illinois on December 22 after a delayed flight from Denver, claims her lost luggage near the baggage carousel at Midway Airport in Chicago, Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022, after Southwest Airlines flights were cancelled and delayed during a winter storm. Problems at Southwest Airlines appeared to snowball after the worst of the storm passed. It cancelled more than 70% of its flights Monday, more than 60% on Tuesday, and warned that it would operate just over a third of its usual schedule in the days ahead to allow crews to get back to where they needed to be. (Pat Nabong /Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
            
              Airport staff looks at a tag on a pile of lost suitcases near the baggage carousel at Midway Airport, Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022, after Southwest Airlines flights were cancelled and delayed during a winter storm.  Problems at Southwest Airlines appeared to snowball after the worst of the storm passed. It cancelled more than 70% of its flights Monday, more than 60% on Tuesday, and warned that it would operate just over a third of its usual schedule in the days ahead to allow crews to get back to where they needed to be. (Pat Nabong /Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
            
              Baggage waits to be claimed at the Southwest Airlines baggage claim Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022, at Salt Lake City International Airport, in Salt Lake City. Many airlines were forced to cancel flights due to the weather, but Southwest was by far the most affected. Of the 2,890 flight cancellations in the U.S. early Tuesday, 2,522 were called off by Southwest, according to the tracking website FlightAware. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
            
              Baggage waits to be claimed at the Southwest Airlines baggage claim Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022, at Salt Lake City International Airport, in Salt Lake City. Many airlines were forced to cancel flights due to the weather, but Southwest was by far the most affected. Of the 2,890 flight cancellations in the U.S. early Tuesday, 2,522 were called off by Southwest, according to the tracking website FlightAware. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
            
              Travelers wait in line at the Southwest Airlines ticket counter Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022, at Salt Lake City International Airport, in Salt Lake City. Southwest Airlines scrubbed thousands of flights again Tuesday in the aftermath of the massive winter storm that wrecked Christmas travel plans across the U.S., and the federal government said it would investigate why the company lagged so far behind other carriers.  (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
            
              Southwest Airlines jets are seen at the John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022. Southwest Airlines scrubbed thousands of flights again Tuesday in the aftermath of the massive winter storm that wrecked Christmas travel plans across the U.S., and the federal government said it would investigate why the company lagged so far behind other carriers. (AP Photo/Eugene Garcia)
            
              Airline staff walks around a pile of suitcases near the baggage carousel at Los Angeles International Airport Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022, after Southwest Airlines flights were canceled and delayed during a winter storm. Southwest Airlines scrubbed thousands of flights again Tuesday after the massive winter storm that wrecked Christmas travel plans across the U.S. The federal government said it would investigate why the company lagged behind other carriers. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
            
              Travelers collect bags at the Southwest Airlines baggage claim area in Denver International Airport Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              Travelers line up to collect bags at the United Airlines baggage claim area in Denver International Airport Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              Stranded passenger, Gwendolyn Johnston, of Love Field, Dallas, holds her 14-month-old daughter, Madison, as she waits with family members at the Southwest terminal at the Los Angeles International Airport, Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022. Johnston's family visited Disneyland for the holidays with two other families. Now, all 11 members must book hotel rooms near LAX, as they won't be able to catch a return flight home in Texas until Jan. 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
            
              Travelers wade through the south security checkpoint in Denver International Airport Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              A traveler wades through the field of unclaimed bags at the Southwest Airlines luggage carousels at Denver International Airport, Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DALLAS (AP) — Travelers who counted on Southwest Airlines to get them home suffered another wave of canceled flights Wednesday, and pressure grew on the federal government to help customers get reimbursed for unexpected expenses they incurred because of the airline’s meltdown.

Exhausted Southwest travelers tried finding seats on other airlines or renting cars to get to their destination, but many remained stranded. The airline’s CEO said it could be next week before the flight schedule returns to normal.

Adontis Barber, a 34-year-old jazz pianist from Kansas City, Missouri, had camped out in the city’s airport since his Southwest flight was canceled Saturday, hoping to reach a New Year’s gig in Washington, D.C.

He left his airport vigil Wednesday. “I give up,” he said. “I’m starting to feel homeless.”

By early afternoon on the East Coast, about 90% of all canceled flights Wednesday in the U.S. were on Southwest, according to the FlightAware tracking service.

Other airlines recovered from ferocious winter storms that hit large swaths of the country over the weekend, but not Southwest, which scrubbed 2,500 flights Wednesday and 2,300 more on Thursday.

The Dallas airline was undone by a combination of factors including an antiquated crew-scheduling system and a network design that allows cancellations in one region to cascade throughout the country rapidly. Those weaknesses are not new — they helped cause a similar failure by Southwest in October 2021.

The U.S. Transportation Department is now investigating what happened at Southwest, which carries more passengers within the United States than any other airline. A Senate committee promises to investigate too.

In a video that Southwest posted late Tuesday, CEO Robert Jordan said Southwest would operate a reduced schedule for several days but hoped to be “back on track before next week.”

“We have some real work to do in making this right,” said Jordan, a 34-year Southwest veteran who became CEO in February. “For now, I want you to know that we are committed to that.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has criticized airlines for previous disruptions, said that “meltdown” was the only word he could think of to describe this week’s events at Southwest. He noted that while cancellations across the rest of the industry declined to about 4% of scheduled flights, they remained above 60% at Southwest.

From the high rate of cancellations to customers’ inability to reach Southwest on the phone, the airline’s performance has been unacceptable, Buttigieg said. He vowed to hold the airline accountable and push it to reimburse travelers.

“They need to make sure that those stranded passengers get to where they need to go and that they are provided adequate compensation,” including for missed flights, hotels and meals, he said Wednesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Robert Mann, an aviation consultant and former airline executive, said the Transportation Department could force Southwest to pay refunds for all flights that were canceled for reasons within the airline’s control, such as lack of crews. He estimated that could total 6,000 cancellations affecting 1 million customers and adding up to $300 million.

Since Southwest plans to pay $428 million in shareholder dividends next month, “the numbers are not life-threatening, although brand damage has been done,” Mann said.

Some consumer advocates are skeptical the government will punish Southwest.

William McGee, a travel expert at the American Economic Liberties Project, noted that the Transportation Department fined Frontier Airlines and several foreign carriers for slow refunds early in the pandemic but didn’t touch the four biggest U.S. airlines.

“What Pete Buttigieg should do and what he will do are probably two different things,” McGee said. His group wants a change in federal law that would make it easier for states and private parties to sue airlines for harming consumers.

On its website, Southwest told customers affected by canceled or delayed flights between Dec. 24 and Jan. 2 to submit receipts. The airline said, “We will honor reasonable requests for reimbursement for meals, hotel, and alternate transportation.”

Navy physician Lt. Cmdr. Manoj Mathew said after spending hours on hold over two days Southwest reimbursed him for the first leg of his family’s trip from Washington to Houston — they drove through terrible weather after the Dec. 23 flight was canceled. Now he is worried whether Southwest will operate the return flight Sunday.

“I’m trying to reach other airlines,” he said. “There are no flights, plus it’s very expensive for us.”

Delta Air Lines said it was capping last-minute fares in Southwest markets through the weekend, and American Airlines said it too was limiting fares in “select” cities. Neither provided figures.

Leaders of Southwest labor unions have warned for years that the airline’s crew-scheduling system, which dates to the 1990s, was not keeping up as the route map grew more complicated.

“The fact is this is not the same airline that (Southwest co-founder) Herb Kelleher built where planes went point-to-point,” Randy Barnes, president of the union that represents Southwest ground workers, said Wednesday. “If airline managers had planned better, the meltdown we’ve witnessed in recent days could have been lessened or averted.”

The other large U.S. airlines use “hub and spoke” networks in which flights radiate out from a few major or hub airports. That helps limit the reach of disruptions caused by bad weather in part of the country.

Southwest, however, has a “point-to-point” network in which planes crisscross the country during the day. This can increase the utilization and efficiency of each plane, but problems in one place can ripple across the country and leave crews trapped out of position. (Crews can be stranded at hub-and-spoke airlines too.)

Those issues don’t explain all the complaints that stranded travelers made about Southwest, including no ability to reach the airline on the phone and a lack of help with hotels and meals.

Teal Williams, a 48-year-old active-duty Army reservist from Utah, was stuck at the Denver airport with her husband and two teenage kids on Christmas Day after their flight to Des Moines, Iowa, was canceled. She said Southwest employees had no information about flights and didn’t offer food vouchers while elderly passengers sat in wheelchairs for hours and mothers ran out of formula for their infants.

“It was just imploding, and no one could tell you anything,” Williams said. The airline employees “were desperately trying to help, but you could tell they were just as clueless as everybody else… it was scary.”

Unable to find plane, train or bus seats, Williams and her family felt lucky to score a rental car. They drove 12 hours to Iowa.

___

Hollingsworth reported from Kansas City, Missouri. Thalia Beaty in New York also contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Southwest Airlines flight cancellations continue to snowball