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Southwest Airlines meltdown leaves passengers stranded in Bay Area, nationwide; Feds investigating

Travelers stranded at Bay Area airports as Southwest cancels thousands of flights
Travelers stranded at Bay Area airports as Southwest cancels thousands of flights 04:20

SAN FRANCISCO -- The number of frustrated airline passengers multiplied into the hundreds of thousands Monday, as holiday flight cancellations and delays on Southwest Airlines worsened, drawing scrutiny from the federal government.

More than 3,200 flights within, into or out of the US had already been canceled by 2:30 p.m. ET Monday, according to flight tracking website FlightAware, while almost 5,000 flights had been delayed.

But Southwest accounted for a whopping share of those. The Dallas-based airline canceled two-thirds of its flights as of Monday afternoon, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware — far more than any other airline. With some 2,700 Southwest flights canceled, another 700 were delayed Monday, FlightAware found.  

In the Bay Area as of Monday evening, Oakland International Airport reported 165 Southwest cancellations and 45 delays. San Francisco International Airport reported 85 cancellations and 258 delays, while Mineta San Jose International Airport reported 153 cancellations and 64 delays.

Check your flight status: OAK | SFO | SJC

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced Monday it would examine Southwest holiday cancellation meltdown, saying in a statement it was "concerned by Southwest Airlines' disproportionate and unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays as well as the failure to properly support customers experiencing a cancellation or delay."

The DOT also said it would "examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan."

On Monday afternoon, the board at Dallas Love Field, the airline's main hub, showed every single arrival had been canceled, according to reporter Kelly Laco.

Southwest CEO Bob Jordan told the Wall Street Journal Monday the situation would continue Tuesday as the airline scrambled to recover.

 "We had a tough day today. In all likelihood we'll have another tough day tomorrow as we work our way out of this," Jordan told the WSJ. "This is the largest scale event that I've ever seen." 

CBS News' Kris Van Cleave reported the airline has already canceled more than 2,400 flights scheduled for Tuesday along with another 2,000 flights for Wednesday.

On social media, customers are complaining about long lines to speak with representatives, problems with lost bags and excessive wait times or busy signals on the airline's customer service telephone lines.

In an earlier 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 totality of our operation."

Some of the airports that saw the biggest issues were 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 couldn't even get in the queue to speak to a representative. Southwest told CNN it is "fully staffed to answer calls."

The airline also says, "those whose flights have been canceled may request a full refund or receive a flight credit, which does not expire."

At Oakland International Airport, passengers waited hours, some days to retrieve their baggage after thousands of flights were canceled or delayed.

Tomas Alcaraz and his family spent their Monday in the Oakland airport - never departing for their destination - after their flight to Las Vegas was canceled out of Sacramento.

"We were planning this surprise and come to find out it didn't come out as suspending as it would be," Alcaraz told CBS News Bay Area.

Stranded Southwest passengers pack Oakland International Airport 02:52

It all started with the perfect Christmas gift for their son. After he received an impressive report card, his family said he earned the surprise trip.

"Sad," the younger Tomas explained, "disappointed, definitely."

"Tired, exhausted, frustrated all the above," Alcaraz said. "It's disappointing though for sure."

Alcaraz and his family were able to retrieve their bags more than 12 hours after arriving at the airport to make the drive back to their home in Sacramento.

The family told CBS News Bay Area they have not yet been offered a refund or compensation for the trip they never got to live out.

The winter storm that swept across the US was ill-timed for travelers who had started pushing Christmas week flying numbers back toward pre-pandemic levels.

On Christmas Day, there were 3,178 flights canceled and 6,870 flights delayed, according to FlightAware. On Christmas Eve, there were a total of 3,487 flights canceled, according to FlightAware. Friday was the worst day of this streak with 5,934 cancellations, while Thursday saw almost 2,700 cancellations.

The megablast of winter weather across the eastern two-thirds of the nation was forecast to slowly moderate this week.

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