(CNSNews.com) – In a “travel advisory” posted on its website, Southwest Airlines warns of “irregular operations,” meaning a majority of its flights continue to be canceled today and through the new year.
The advisory said Southwest is experiencing “high call volumes and busy signals,” meaning thousands of customers are stranded in airports, some for days, with no opportunity to rebook their canceled flights.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told NBC News Tuesday evening that Southwest needs to “take care of” its passengers and employees. He called it an “unacceptable situation” and said “cash refunds” need to happen:
“Look, everybody understands that there is extreme weather across the country, but where most airlines saw their performance start to improve, Southwest’s has actually moved in the other direction. You’ve got passengers who are stranded. You’ve got passengers who can’t get ahold of customer service. It’s an unacceptable situation.”
Buttigieg said Southwest has told him they will “go above and beyond their written customer service plan,” which must include financial compensation, he said:
“At a minimum, there need to be cash refunds for the canceled flights, and they need to be taking care of passengers where they got stuck, with meals, hotel compensation.” Southwest has now added a webpage where customers can request a refund for canceled flights.
‘Highly complex network’
Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan issued a statement on video Tuesday evening, saying the airline is “doing everything we can to return to a normal operation.”
He noted that Southwest is among the nation’s largest airlines, and it has a “highly complex network,” which relies on “all the pieces” of that network to be in place — “especially aircraft and crews” getting to where they need to go. The weather left “flight crews out of position in dozens of locations,” he said.
“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.”
Jordan said Southwest’s plan for the next few days is to fly a reduced schedule and reposition our people and planes — “and we’re making headway, and we’re optimistic to be back on track before next week. We have some real work to do in making this right. For now, I want you to know that we’re committed to that.”
Southwest experienced serious flight disruptions a year ago October, blaming it on staffing shortages.
NBC asked Buttigieg on Tuesday how travelers can have faith in the Transportation Department “as a watchdog, if these problems keep happening?”
“Well, what we did, especially over the course of the problems we saw this year, was press the airlines to increase their customer service commitments. They did that. They did that in writing,” Buttigieg said:
“And now that we have that in hand, we are able to hold them accountable to a higher standard than what was possible last year. Now again, what we have going on right now is different for Southwest, this one airline, than what we’re seeing across the rest of the system.
“As a watchdog, we are going to hold them accountable. And we’re going to have to take a deeper look at what’s going on with their scheduling systems.
“We all understand you can’t control the weather. This has clearly crossed the line from what’s an uncontrollable weather situation to something that is the airline’s direct responsibility.”
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