Southwest Cancels Thousands of Flights, Pushing Holiday Travel Plans Into Chaos

Southwest has already cancelled over 8,000 flights since Thursday.

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Travelers search through mountains of luggage at the baggage claim at  Chicago Midway International Airport on Dec. 26, 2022, in Chicago.
Travelers search through mountains of luggage at the baggage claim at Chicago Midway International Airport on Dec. 26, 2022, in Chicago.
Photo: Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times (AP)

Southwest Airlines has cancelled over 2,400 flights for Tuesday, roughly 61% of its entire schedule, according to the latest figures from FlightAware. The bad news comes after Southwest cancelled over 2,900 flights on Monday, and this could be just the beginning for the airline’s woes, with several reports noting Southwest doesn’t expect to resume a normal schedule until December 31.

Southwest management told the Wall Street Journal it was “rebalancing the airline,” and insisted it was “full staffed” in the lead up to this past weekend, which included Christmas. The airline suggested the fault was bad weather, but didn’t publicly explain why it was the airline with the most cancellations.

“We were fully staffed and prepared for the approaching holiday weekend when the severe weather swept across the continent,” Southwest told the Journal.

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Crew members who called to get rescheduled for cancelled flights overloaded Southwest’s phone system, according to multiple sources online. Southwest simply didn’t have enough staff to answer the phones and rebook both pilots and flight attendants as the cancellations snowballed across the country.

The horror stories on social media are frankly too numerous to count at this point, as would be expected with so many cancellations over a busy holiday period.

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An internal company memo purporting to be from December 21 has also been leaked to social media claiming too many Southwest workers have called in sick over the holidays. Gizmodo could not immediately verify the authenticity of the memo, and while Southwest management in Denver has reportedly demanded that workers who’ve called out sick get a doctor’s note in person, heavily suggesting they think people are abusing the system, it’s entirely possible that most of the people who are absent from work are actually ill.

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While many people have spent 2022 trying to pretend the covid-19 pandemic is over, the U.S. is still averaging over 60,000 new cases of the disease per day, according to the New York Times. The U.S. is currently averaging about 322 deaths from covid-19 per day, the death toll equivalent of a 9/11 terrorist attack every ten days.

And it’s not just covid-19. There are a number of respiratory illnesses that have seen a resurgence this winter, including the flu and RSV. And there’s serious concern that strep A infections are spreading rapidly in Europe.

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The U.S. Department of Transportation released a statement Monday night expressing concern about Southwest’s “unacceptable rate of cancellations.”

“The Department will examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan,” the federal agency explained on Twitter.

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Southwest has waived fees for rebooking between now and January 2, but good luck actually getting a flight on the airline, given the chaos that’s unfolded.

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“Customers holding any Southwest reservation from Sunday, December 25 through Monday, January 2, may rebook in the original class of service or travel standby (within 14 days of their original date of travel between the original city-pairs and in accordance with our accommodation procedures) without paying any additional charge,” the airline says on its website.

If you’re flying Southwest this week, good luck.