In what travelers are calling a “Christmas nightmare,” Southwest Airlines canceled more than 60% of its flights on Tuesday, stranding thousands as winter storms continue to disrupt air travel across the country.
According to FlightAware, Southwest’s mass cancellations and delays will continue at least into Thursday, with the flight tracking service showing that the company has already canceled 62% of its flights on Wednesday and 21% of its flights on Thursday.
As travelers contend with long waits at the airport and a “broken” customer service line, many have taken to social media to criticize Southwest for mismanaging the winter storm fiasco.
.@SouthwestAir took $3.7B in federal aid from 2020-21.— Qasim Rashid, Esq. (@QasimRashid) December 27, 2022
It’s CEO got a pay raise to a $9.1M package in 2022.
Yet Southwest employees are working 16 hour shifts & threatened w/termination if they refuse overtime or call in sick.
Socialism for the wealthy. Capitalism for workers. https://t.co/noUi0D7Jxj
On Reddit, viral posts on r/SouthwestAirlines took aim at the company’s new CEO, Bob Jordan, and the airline’s board.
In the subreddit’s most upvoted post on Tuesday, a Southwest pilot claimed that executives knew that crews were “stretched to the absolute limit” and that “it was only a matter of time” before the airline “spiraled out of control," though Southwest said in a Dec. 27 press release that it was "fully staffed and prepared" ahead of the holidays.
“The board and CEO knew this, and chose to instead give themselves multi-million dollar bonuses and threaten to fire staff, along with dragging out contract negotiations with the unions in the hopes there will be a recession,” the pilot writes. “This is corporate mismanagement to a level I’ve never seen in this industry during my 25 years.”
In February, regulatory filings showed that Southwest’s CEO would receive $9 million in total compensation, including his salary, bonus potential, and stock awards.
@oliviacastaldy @southwestair needs to be held accountable for their lack of transparency and incompetence. This is absurd. You can’t even tell people where their luggage is yet there are thousands of bags just sitting out in the wide open at DIA. #southwestairlines #southwest #denvercolorado #denver #colorado #southwestsucks #cancelsouthwest ♬ original sound - Olivia
The union for Southwest Airlines flight attendants, Transport Workers Union of America Local 556, also blamed management, with its president alleging that the airline has failed to modernize its tech despite the workers' demands.
Aviation experts and Southwest employees have also attributed Southwest’s holiday meltdown to the budget airline’s “point-to-point” business model. Unlike most airlines, Southwest’s planes travel from city to city without returning to a hub, meaning that the airline can’t cut specific routes without disrupting multiple flights.
"We are not a hub and spoke carrier; we have 30+ airports with high flight volume so our solution to normalize the operation looks very different from other carriers," a spokesperson from Southwest told Cheapism.
Beyond cancellations, Southwest travelers on social media described long lines, unresponsive customer service, and issues with their luggage.
In one popular TikTok, Zach Blondin says that after his flight to Miami, Florida, was canceled on Monday, he called Southwest’s customer service line, only to find out that it was down. It was only after Blondin drove to the airport and waited in line for six hours that he was able to talk to a service representative and reschedule his flight for Dec. 31.
@zachblondin a christmas nightmare at the airport🥲 #southwest #southwestairlines #fyp #foryou #ReasonForBooking #CODSquadUp #stlouis #miami #airport #christmas #travel #2022 ♬ Players - DJ Smallz 732 - Jersey Club Remix - Coi Leray
“But I have no backup plan for if this flight gets canceled,” Blondin says, adding that “he’ll walk to Miami” if Southwest cancels his flight again.
Southwest customers traveling through Jan. 2 can rebook or travel standby for free within 30 days of their original travel date, according to Southwest’s website. At time of publication, Southwest’s customer service line is operational — a spokesperson said they received "historic levels of traffic over the weekend" — but the company encourages travelers to visit Southwest.com to rebook flights.
"With consecutive days of extreme winter weather across our network behind us, continuing challenges are impacting our Customers and Employees in a significant way that is unacceptable," Southwest wrote in a press release on Tuesday, adding that the airline will continue to operate at a third of its capacity for the next few days.
"With no concern higher than ultimate Safety, the People of Southwest share a goal to take care of each and every Customer. We recognize falling short and sincerely apologize."