Consumer Alert: Southwest Airline’s meltdown could have been prevented, so say pilots

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Friday. That’s the day Southwest has promised to resume a normal schedule. 

The airline’s Christmas meltdown had been extraordinary to witness, and continued most of the week. Ninety-five percent of all the flights canceled across the country on Thursday were Southwest flights, according to the airline tracking service, FlightAware.

Let that sink in. And get this: since the winter weather hit on Friday, Dec. 23rd, Southwest has canceled roughly 15,750 flights. It is a colossal company catastrophe, and the airline’s unions say it was preventable.

The Southwest Pilots Association leaders say Southwest’s antiquated 1990’s scheduling software is to blame. When a flight is canceled, crews have to call a number and talk to a scheduler to be reassigned.  Pilots report waiting on hold for hours, trying to get through to scheduling. And just last year, Southwest appears to have ignored big, red, flashing warning signs.

In June of 2021 a technology meltdown led to Southwest canceling or delaying half its flights over a day and a half. Then four months later in October, bad weather on a Friday led to rescheduling nightmares because crews weren’t in the cities they were supposed to be. That weekend, Southwest canceled 1,800 flights as it struggled to recover. Sound familiar?

But company officials are not commenting on their out-of-date scheduling system. Instead, SWA Chief Commercial Officer Ryan Green issued another apology and had advice for travelers.

“If you’re still waiting on a bag, you can submit information on how to retrieve, receive that bag at no cost to you,” he said in a video message on the company’s website. “You can submit a full refund request for any canceled flights, and if you have any travel expenses due to the disruption, you can submit those receipts directly on our website.”

Notice how carefully he worded that sentence. You’ll be reimbursed for canceled flights and any travel expenses due to the disruption. When I asked a Southwest spokesperson the same question, I got an equally carefully worded answer. He said, “Passengers will be reimbursed for any “reasonable travel expenses due to the disruption.”

But what if you’ve been delayed for days, and you missed work and wages? Will Southwest reimburse that? I think it’s unlikely. Still, you need to submit all receipts to Southwest online, and if the airline fails to reimburse you, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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