Southwest Airlines Is Canceling Most of Its Flights—And It's Not Just Bad Weather

Winter storms majorly impacted the airline industry this week, but Southwest has additional issues.

Don't let the name fool you: Southwest Airlines is not limited to flights in the Southwest. According to NerdWallet, the airline actually flies to over 100 domestic destinations across 42 states. Thanks to this reach—and relatively low prices—Southwest is a popular choice for U.S. travelers. However, those who were booked Southwest flights over the holiday weekend, or have flights scheduled this week, are facing a rude awakening. As with most other airlines, Southwest was forced to adjust its schedule amid freezing temperatures and a winter storm, which led to mass delays and cancellations. But while the industry as a whole seems to be bouncing back, Southwest is still floundering—and the airline's issues go beyond weather woes. Read on to find out why Southwest is canceling most of its flights this week.

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Southwest is canceling more flights than any other airline.

man looking at southwest airplanes
Elliott Cowand Jr / Shutterstock

According to CNN Business, the holiday havoc affecting the airline industry was slowing down on Monday, Dec. 26, following a weekend of cancellations and delays. But Southwest has continued to cancel flights: Per The Wall Street Journal and data from FlightAware, between Thursday, Dec. 22, and yesterday, Dec. 26, Southwest canceled roughly 8,000 flights.

"We had a tough day today," Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said in an interview with the outlet on Monday. "In all likelihood we'll have another tough day tomorrow as we work our way out of this. This is the largest-scale event that I've ever seen."

Today, things are only getting worse. As of 9 a.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST), the airline accounted for 2,522 of 2,892 canceled U.S. flights across all airlines, which amounts to just over 87 percent. Spirit has the second-highest number of cancellations, but at just 83 canceled flights total, it's a tiny fraction of Southwest's pulled planes.

The numbers aren't exactly improving either. CNN Business reports that Southwest already accounts for 99 percent of flight cancellations tomorrow.

The airline is only operating a third of its normal schedule.

woman looking at canceled flight schedule
Ekaterina Pokrovsky / Shutterstock

Southwest already canceled approximately 62 percent of its Tuesday flights, and a spokesperson for the airline confirmed to The Wall Street Journal that this "reduced schedule" will continue through Thursday until the carrier can get itself back on track. To do so, Southwest will operate roughly a third of the flights it normally does.

The airline has had a run of bad luck that contributed to cancellations, as the winter storm pummeled Chicago and Denver—two of its primary hubs, CNN Travel reported.

"As the storm continued to sweep across the country it continued to impact many of our larger stations and so the cancellations just compiled one after another to 100 to 150 to 1,000," Jay McVay, a Southwest spokesperson, said in a press conference at Houston's William P. Hobby Airport on Dec. 26. "With those cancellations and as a result, we end up with flight crews and airplanes that are out of place and not in the cities that they need to be in to continue to run our operations."

But Kathleen Bangs, a FlightAware spokesperson, told CNN Business that Southwest's issues go beyond bad weather, citing the airline's tight turnaround times for flights, which "bog things down," she said. Captain Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said that the "outdated processes and outdated IT" systems are also to blame.

Jordan addressed Murray's statements in a message to employees, conceding that Southwest is suffering due to a "lack of tools" and that they need to be able to respond and "produce solutions faster." However, Jordan said that the airline is "committed to and investing in" improving and modernizing its systems, CNN Business reported.

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Weather caused problems, but there are larger issues at play.

stranded passenger trying to call customer service
SB Arts Media / Shutterstock

To make matters worse, these outdated systems affect travelers' ability to get in touch with the airline. In a Dec. 26 tweet, Southwest stated that it was experiencing "high call and social inquiry volumes," including a link to check flight status and other options. Although the airline told CNN Travel that it was "fully staffed to answer calls," stranded travelers and those looking to recover checked baggage on Monday reported that they couldn't get through to Southwest's customer service line.

Employees couldn't get through to the airline either, Lyn Montgomery, President of TWU Local 556, the union that represents Southwest's flight attendants, told CNN Business.

"The phone system the company uses is just not working," Montgomery said. "They're just not manned with enough manpower in order to give the scheduling changes to flight attendants, and that's created a ripple effect that is creating chaos throughout the nation."

Issues are so severe that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is investigating the cancellations. "USDOT is concerned by Southwest's unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays & reports of lack of prompt customer service," the agency tweeted on Dec. 26. "The Department will examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan."

The airline says it will make things right.

Southwest Airlines at the T. F. Green Airport in Warwick Rhode Island
iStock

Despite the ongoing mayhem, the airline says that it's attempting to do right by its loyal customers. During the Dec. 26 press conference in Houston, McVay stressed the importance of safety and taking care of customers, CNN Travel reported.

"We will do everything that we need to do to right the challenges that we've had right now," McVay said, adding that the carrier would work to secure hotel stays or other modes of transportation for travelers. Those who took matters into their own hands and made alternative plans were encouraged to hold onto their receipts as well.

"If you've already left, take care of yourself, do what you need to do for your family, keep your receipts," McVay said. "We will make sure they are taken care of, that is not a question."

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