Southwest Airlines disruption leaves customers stranded, call centers flooded

(CNN) — Last week’s winter travel mess hangs over this week like a hangover — and the headache is of migraine proportions for Southwest Airlines and its frustrated passengers on Monday.

Nearly 3,600 flights within, into or out of the United States had already been canceled by 3:30 p.m. ET Monday, according to flight tracking website FlightAware, while nearly 5,400 flights had been delayed.

But Southwest accounts for a huge share of these. None of the other US airlines have canceled nearly as many flights or as much of the schedule as Southwest.

The Dallas-based airline had canceled more than half of its flights — about 2,650 total flights — as of 3:30 p.m. Monday, according to FlightAware. It canceled around 300 flights in half an hour on Monday afternoon.

On social media, customers complain loudly about long queues to speak to representatives, problems with lost bags and excessively long wait times or busy signals on the airline̵[ads1]7;s customer service telephone lines.

CNN’s Carlos Suarez spoke with frustrated passengers in line at the Southwest ticket counter at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport. He reports that about 150 customers are in a long line to rebook, with the line snaking around the back of the ticket counter.

“Disturbances in our network”

Customers faced long lines at the Southwest counters on Monday at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

Customers faced long lines at the Southwest counters on Monday at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.


In a statement to CNN, Southwest Airlines said it was “experiencing disruptions across our network as a result of (the winter storm’s) lingering effects on the entirety of our operations.”

Some of the airports seeing the biggest problem are Denver, Las Vegas, Chicago Midway, Baltimore/Washington and Dallas Love Field where Southwest operates.

Calls to Southwest’s customer service attempted Monday afternoon by CNN did not go through, so customers could not even get in line to speak with a representative. Southwest told CNN it is “fully staffed to respond to calls.”

The airline also says, “those whose flights have been canceled can request a full refund or receive a non-expiring flight credit.”

Meanwhile, in hard-hit western New York, Buffalo International Airport said in its latest tweet that it plans to resume passenger flights at 11 a.m. ET Tuesday.

The temperature at the airport was 19 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 7 Celsius) around 3 p.m. ET, with light snow falling on top of the massive amounts the area has already seen.

What can stranded passengers do?

If you’ve been stuck and your efforts to reach a customer service agent are going nowhere, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights suggests trying an international number.

“The main phone line for US airlines will be clogged with other passengers being rebooked. To get through to an agent quickly, call one of the airline’s dozens of international offices,” Scott Keyes said.

“Agents can handle your reservation just like US-based ones can, but there’s almost no wait time to get through.”

Bad road conditions

Road travel remained treacherous in parts of the United States due to extreme winter conditions.

In New York state’s western Erie County, emergency driving restrictions were lifted in some communities but remained in place in Buffalo, County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Monday.

“The city of Buffalo is impassable in most areas, while the power grid may have a lane or two open to emergency traffic, most secondary as well as side streets have not been affected yet,” Poloncarz said.

He adds that the cleared main roads are primarily for the use of life-saving measures to open up areas around hospitals and nursing homes.

A tough last week

A winter storm sweeping across the US was ill-timed for travelers who had started to push Christmas week flying numbers back towards pre-pandemic levels.

On Christmas Day, there were 3,178 flights canceled and 6,870 flights delayed, according to FlightAware.

On Christmas Eve, a total of 3,487 flights were cancelled, according to FlightAware.

Friday was the worst day in this streak with 5,934 cancellations, while Thursday saw almost 2,700 cancellations.

This megablast of wintry weather across the eastern two-thirds of the nation is forecast to slowly moderate this week.

More developments to come on this latest news.

CNN’s Ross Levitt, Chris Boyette and Artemis Moshtaghian contributed to this story.

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