Southwest Tries to Make Amends While Admitting "No Apologies" Can Undo Holiday Travel Disaster
The airline wants to make up for cancelling more than 15,000 flights due to a technical issue.
No travel debacle is quite like the kind that develops over a major holiday. Larger than average crowds descending upon airports can already put strain on an airline's resources even before a major weather event or technical glitch leads to delays or cancellations that can take days to rebook. This past holiday season, Southwest infamously had to deal with both issues during a company-wide meltdown that brought its operations to a standstill and ruined holiday travel plans for its passengers. Now, the carrier is trying to make it up to its customers—while still admitting that "no apologies" will suffice. Read on to see how Southwest is trying to make amends for the holiday travel disaster it caused.
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Southwest is still feeling the effects of the travel chaos it recently caused.
This year, millions of travelers braced themselves as a historic winter storm made its way across the U.S. just in time for the busiest travel days of the holiday season. But while many airlines were forced to cancel or delay flights early on, Southwest saw its scheduling issues extend past the severe weather. A failure of the airline's outdated crew scheduling software led to more than 15,000 of its flights being canceled nationwide between Dec. 22 and Dec. 29, stranding passengers for days and creating a chaotic mess of lost luggage, USA Today reports.
Even though Southwest reported that it had smoothed out its operation woes before New Year's Day, there appeared to be some lingering issues. The airline canceled more than 250 flights on Jan. 2 and Jan. 3 and delayed many more, according to FlightAware. The carrier blamed the scheduling changes on "weather and air traffic control-related issues" in a statement to USA Today.
The carrier's meltdown has so far been met with criticism from government officials who are pressing the company to rectify its mistakes. "Southwest Airlines failed its customers. Point blank," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a Jan. 3 press conference. "The Department of Transportation will hold them accountable to their commitments to make their customers whole."
Southwest is now trying to make amends with customers for the blunder.
As the daily travel woes subside, Southwest is in the process of reimbursing passengers who were affected by the company's historic meltdown. Any customers booked between Dec. 24, 2022 and Jan. 2, 2023 can request a full refund for their unused ticket to their original form of payment, according to the airline's website. Those who were left stranded can also submit additional expenses, with the carrier saying it will "honor reasonable requests for reimbursement for meals, hotel accommodations, and alternate transportation (for example: rental cars and tickets on other airlines)."
But on Jan. 3, the company announced that it would go above and beyond to make it up to its customers. In an email to passengers who had submitted for refunds, reimbursements, and luggage retrieval requests, Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said that the company would be offering each person 25,000 frequent flyer miles as a "gesture of goodwill" to affected travelers in addition to all other reimbursements.
"I know that no amount of apologies can undo your experience," Jordan wrote, adding that the points have a "base fare redemption value of over $300" and have no blackout or expiration dates.
Other passengers have reported receiving even more compensation for their troubles. In a Dec. 30 tweet, Zach Griff, a reporter for travel news website The Points Guy, wrote that the airline issued him a $250 flight voucher on top of a full flight refund and reimbursement for an alternate flight less than three hours after submitting receipts.
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Many passengers are still waiting to be reunited with their lost luggage.
But even though Southwest appears to be past the worst of its scheduling woes, it's still dealing with the issue of travelers' misplaced luggage. The carrier says it is now using volunteer employees from across the company to help sift through the heavy backlog of belongings, according to an internal memo sent by Jordan on Jan. 3 that was obtained by CNN.
The group effort has helped the company decrease the stockpile of lost luggage "in half since Thursday," adding that it's "on track to get the majority if not all bags shipped to our customers later this week," CNN reports. On top of its own flights, Jordan said the carrier is using other airlines and courier services such as FedEx to help reunite the bags with their owners.
When reached for comment, Southwest Airlines highlighted its offer of free frequent flyer miles and told Best Life: "Over the recent holiday travel week, we disrupted many of our Customers' travel and holiday plans, and for that, we are truly sorry. As we embark on the journey to rebuild our Customers' faith, loyalty, and trust, we know we have much work to do. It's a passionate pursuit, and our Southwest Family has never been more committed to the all-important imperative of serving our Customers with warm Hospitality and reliability."
"There are several high-priority efforts underway to assist our impacted Customers, including processing refunds from canceled flights, reimbursing Customers for expenses incidental to the irregular operations, and reuniting Customers with their baggage. The good news is as of this past weekend, our flight volume has recovered to normal levels with a focus on once again running a smooth, reliable Operation," the airline said.
One passenger has filed a lawsuit against Southwest for its "internally created crisis."
While Southwest reaches out to travelers in an attempt to redeem itself, some are being more proactive dealing with the carrier. On Dec. 30, affected passenger Eric Capdeville filed a lawsuit in a New Orleans federal court alleging that the company didn't provide the quick refunds or rebooked flights it owed after an "internally created crisis" within the company grounded flights, CNN reports.
According to Capdeville, he was offered a flight voucher towards a future flight instead of a refund—despite having booked a nonrefundable stay in Portland, Oregon, The Washington Post reports. The lawsuit cites the airline's ticket policy of giving passengers the option of rebooking onto the next available flight or providing a full refund as grounds for the complaint.
"His flight was canceled, and there were no alternative Southwest flights to accommodate him from the Trip's origin to his destination," according to the lawsuit.
When reached for comment, Southwest Airlines told Best Life: "We don't have information to share on the pending litigation."