Southwest Workers Share the Real Story of Unprecedented Travel Disaster in Reddit Threads
AIRLINE EMPLOYEES SAY THAT THE ISSUES GO WELL BEYOND THE RECENT WINTER STORM.
The airline industry as a whole was hit hard by a massive winter storm last week, but Southwest in particular has experienced unprecedented chaos, canceling close to 13,000 flights over the past several days, per NPR. Passengers are still stranded across the U.S., and they may remain grounded for the foreseeable future. According to data from FlightAware, as of this morning, Southwest had canceled 2,508 of today's flights—roughly 62 percent of its schedule—and tomorrow, 2,348 have already been axed.
Southwest attributed these cancellations to the storm, but the carrier also conceded that its outdated systems have complicated disruptions. Now, employees are shedding light on the real story behind mass Southwest cancellations—and they have advice for those who impacted by the airline's issues. Read on to see what airline workers are sharing on Reddit about the travel disaster.
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Southwest is still experiencing massive challenges.
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Southwest is currently operating on a "reduced schedule," keeping roughly one-third of its usual flights until it can get itself back on track, The Wall Street Journal reported. In a video statement on Dec. 27, Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan said that the airline hopes to return to normal "before next week."
"We're doing everything we can to return to a normal operation, and please also hear that I am truly sorry," Jordan said. He claimed that the "giant puzzle" was difficult to solve due to Southwest's size and its schedule, which is built "around communities, not hubs." Jordan pointed to the storm and freezing temperatures in cities where large numbers of Southwest flights were scheduled, leading to cancellations and a domino effect of setbacks.
"Our network is highly complex and the operation of the airline counts on all the pieces, especially aircraft and crews remaining in motion to where they're planned to go," Jordan said. "With our large fleet of airplanes and flight crews out of position in dozens of locations. And after days of trying to operate as much of our full schedule across the busy holiday weekend, we reached a decision point to significantly reduce our flying to catch up."
He also noted that while "tools we use to recover from disruption serve us well, 99 percent of the time," there's a glaring need to upgrade in order to avoid issues like this in the future. For their part, however, employees say the issues with existing technology are even more complex.
Southwest relies on phone calls for the staff scheduling process.
Jelena Stanojkovic / Shutterstock
Southwest workers have taken to Reddit to explain why the airline is actually struggling. "On behalf of all employees: WE ARE SORRY!" a thread that was also shared on Twitter reads. "I will give it to your straight—this meltdown was caused entirely by Southwest."
The employee said that while issues may have been "triggered by the storm," the airline alone should be held responsible for its recovery efforts. "If you are still hearing 'weather' almost a week after the storm, it's not true," they wrote.
According to the employee's post, scheduling software went "belly up," and Southwest workers now have to call the airline for scheduling. "If we had better technology which eliminated the need for phone calls, this would have been fixed by now," they noted.
A separate Reddit post shared a statement from a Southwest First Officer that also pointed to the airline's "antiquated software." The officer wrote that they'd spent two hours trying to get in touch with their employer over the phone, and crews have been calling "to fly anyone, anywhere, but the company says the system needs a reset."
They also dispelled rumors about a "lack of crews" or staged sick calls being to blame. "Absolutely not true at all," the officer wrote. "This is a computer system meltdown."
Lyn Montgomery, President of TWU Local 556, the union that represents Southwest's flight attendants, corroborated this when speaking with CNN Business. "The phone system the company uses is just not working," she said. "They're just not manned with enough manpower in order to give the scheduling changes to flight attendants, and that's created a ripple effect that is creating chaos throughout the nation."
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Avoid Southwest for the next few days and don't check a bag, employees warn.
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Frustrated customers have also had difficulty getting in touch with the airline. NPR reported that some travelers didn't even know their flight was canceled until they checked for themselves online. In the initial Reddit post, the employee recommended avoiding this hassle and going around Southwest entirely.
"If you are able to find alternative transportation to your final destination—DO IT," the post reads. "Another airline, bus, train, Lyft, rental car, ANYTHING. Southwest WILL NOT be able to get you to your destination anytime in the next few days."
By the employee's estimates, flights scheduled through Dec. 29 are likely to be canceled, but from Dec. 30 on, flights may take off as planned. The Southwest First Officer, however, said that the company has "effectively shut down the operations for the rest of the year."
Travelers were also cautioned against checking a bag unless absolutely necessary, as the bag situation is "currently a disaster," the first Southwest employee wrote. "Plan to not see your checked luggage for at least a month. In the interest of 100% transparency, some bags will be 30+ days lost in the system."
Federal officials are now investigating.
Amid the chaos, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) tweeted that it was looking into the situation and was "concerned by Southwest's unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays & reports of lack of prompt customer service." Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg also spoke out in an interview with PBS Newshour, calling Southwest's actions "unacceptable."
"We're going to expect them to go beyond the letter of the law in terms of how they treat passengers, making sure they pay for things like hotels, ground travel expenses, meals and of course, refunds," Buttigieg said in the interview, per NPR. "I'm going to be watching very closely to make sure that they follow through."
In his video statement, Jordan claimed the airline will make things right, and that he'd spoken with Buttigieg to highlight the efforts the airline is making. "We always take care of our customers. And we will lean in and go above and beyond as they would expect us to," Jordan stated. "Teams are working on all of that: processing refunds, proactively reaching out and taking care of customers who are dealing with costly detours and reroutes, as just a few examples."
The Southwest employee echoed the need to find other ways to get where you need to go, reposting an update from the airline, which asked customers with a cancellation or significant delay between Dec. 24, 2022, and Jan. 2, 2023, to "submit receipts for consideration." Travelers who have their flight canceled are entitled to a refund for their ticket and any associated costs (including baggage and seat assignment), per DOT rules, NPR reported. However, reimbursement for things like hotels and other methods of transport is more of a gray area.