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Southwest cancellations: Airline issues apology for 'unacceptable' situation

The day after Christmas has turned into a travel nightmare for many people with flights on Monday.

WASHINGTON — The aftermath from a massive winter storm caused nationwide chaos for travelers trying to catch a flight on the day after Christmas, especially those booked on Southwest Airlines

As of 10 p.m. Eastern on Monday, more than 3,900 flights within, into, or out of the U.S. have been canceled, according to the tracking site FlightAware

Southwest Airlines accounted for the vast majority of those canceled flights and eventually apologized to passengers and employees for the "unacceptable" situation. In many cases, stranded passengers were told it would be at least three or four days before they could be rebooked on another Southwest flight. 

FlightAware said Southwest had 2,902 cancellations Monday - about 71% of its scheduled flights for the day and ten times as many as any other major U.S. carrier. For comparison, Delta Airlines had the second-most cancellations Monday for a U.S. carrier with around 268, about 9% of its scheduled flights. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation said Monday evening it was "concerned" by the high number of cancellations and reports of lacking customer service. The federal agency said it would be examining whether the "cancellations were controllable." 

As of late Monday night, Southwest had already canceled 61% of its Tuesday flights and 30% of Wednesday's flights, according to FlightAware.

Dallas-based Southwest said in an update Monday afternoon that with "consecutive days of extreme winter weather across our network behind us, continuing challenges are impacting our Customers and Employees in a significant way that is unacceptable. And our heartfelt apologies for this are just beginning."

The airline said on its website that it's "working with Safety at the forefront to urgently address wide-scale disruption by rebalancing the airline and repositioning Crews and our fleet ultimately to best serve all who plan to travel with us." 

Southwest also warned that it anticipates "additional changes with an already reduced level of flights as we approach the coming New Year holiday travel period." The carrier said it recognizes it has fallen short and will "work to make things right for those we’ve let down" once things are sorted out.  

In Phoenix, a Southwest employee informed passengers over the airport intercom that they "do not have crew to work the flights" and that 90% of their flights have been canceled. The announcement told Phoenix passengers to just go home, because they weren't going to be able to get rebooked on other flights for four days.

A similar scene played out in Sacramento, as agents warned passengers they wouldn't be able to book new flights until Friday. 

Earlier in the day, the airline told WFAA Monday's disruptions weren't a staffing issue. 

"Any rumor or innuendo of a job action from Southwest Employees in unfounded and we commend the thousands of our People working around the clock to serve our Customers and each other," the statement said.

Credit: AP
Travelers wait at a Southwest Airlines baggage counter to retrieve their bags after canceled flights at Los Angeles International Airport, Monday, Dec. 26, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Eugene Garcia)

Based on FlightAware data, airports all across the U.S. were suffering from cancellations and delays, including Denver, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Seattle, Baltimore and Chicago.

Monday's soaring number of Southwest cancellations comes after thousands of U.S. flights were either canceled or delayed over the past week amid a massive winter storm. 

For those who were able to catch a flight over the holiday weekend, many now may be faced with trying to track down their checked luggage. 

Similar scenes of long lines and many lost or missing bags have popped up Monday at baggage claim areas at multiple airports including Denver, Houston and St. Louis

The Associated Press and WFAA contributed to this report.

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