Consumer Alert: Southwest Airlines leaves thousands stranded. Here’s what happened and how you file a complaint

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – It was another day of misery for Southwest Airlines passengers.  According to FlightAware, a live airline tracking service, at 10:30 pm Tuesday night there were 3187 cancellations across the country. 

Southwest is the topic of tonight’s consumer alert. FlightAware, a live airline tracking service.  And at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night there were 3,187 cancellations across the country.  Of those, 2,685 were Southwest flights. That means Southwest’s cancelations accounted for 85 percent of the canceled flights across the country.

Days after much of the country felt the brunt of the winter storm’s wrath, Southwest is still a mess. Here’s Southwest’s explanation: The storm started west and swept east, impacting all their largest airports and put them in a position from which they couldn’t recover.

Tuesday, Bob Jordan,CEO of Southwest, apologized to customers and explained that the airline is planning to fly only about third of its schedule over the next few days to try to catch up from its holiday debacle.

“With our large fleet of airplanes and crew 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’ve reached the decision that we’re going significantly reduce our flying to catch up.”

He also apologized and promised to make things right for customers.  But News10 NBC’s Patrick Moussignac interviewed a Southwest Airlines passenger stranded at Rochester’s airport who told them Southwest couldn’t get her back to Alabama for seven days.  Cornelia Finley said not only did the airline refuse to put her on a competitor’s airline, they also refused to provide hotel accommodations.

Is that making things right for customers? That’s what I asked Southwest and Chris Perry, a Southwest Airlines spokesman who told me the airline does not have partnerships with other airlines, but “customers may submit receipts for reimbursement requests. Requests for reasonable reimbursements directly related to the travel disruption will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to support the customer, including meals, hotels, and alternate transportation.”

Could Southwest have mitigated the magnitude of this debacle? Southwest pilots and flight attendants say yes. They say the airline has painfully outdated scheduling processes. The crew scheduling software is outdated and crashed, forcing schedulers to do it manually, which was very slow. Also when a flight is canceled, the crews have to call a number to be rescheduled, and there were so many folks calling in no one could get through. Lastly, Southwest has a lot of short flights and tight turnarounds.  So, when the dominoes begin to fall, it’s tough to recover.

If you want to file a complaint about your experience, click here to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation. 

Click here to submit your reimbursement request to Southwest Airlines.

More about Southwest Airlines cancelations: