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Southwest Airlines: Customers can't rebook flights until after New Year's Day

Amid thousands of Southwest flight cancellations, one family makes the journey to visit family
Amid thousands of Southwest flight cancellations, one family makes the journey to visit family 03:24

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) — Seventy percent of Southwest Airline's flights have been canceled and travelers at Love Field Airport in Dallas have been lining up trying to get answers all day.

Travelers at the airport say they were told they won't be able to catch another Southwest flight until Saturday.

"It's too hard to wrap your head around," said Jim Lovell.

The Lovell family just found out their Southwest flight home to San Diego after the holidays was canceled.

"We just heard that the next possible flight we can take home would be the 31st of December," Lovell said. 

Now they're reeling trying to figure out how they'll to get home to California.

"How do you afford to stay in a city that you weren't planning to stay in?" he said.

Southwest is blaming all cancellations on the winter storm that swept across the country.

"The biggest challenge that we faced was incredible delays to the point where we had to cancel flights due to snow, people getting to the airport, people leaving the airport," said Jay McVay, a spokesperson for the Dallas-based airline. "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."

President Biden also joined the conversation, tweeting that his administration is working to "ensure airlines are held accountable.

According to FlightAware, 70% of Southwest's flights were canceled on Monday, leaving thousands of flyers nationwide frustrated.

The Department of Transportation said they're concerned about Southwest's "unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays" and that they'll be investigating whether the cancellations were controllable.

Any government review of the airline's meltdown will likely focus on if the company followed policies meant to protect the rights of travelers caught in the mess. Those policies, just updated at the end of August, include details on timely refunds, providing food vouchers or hotel reimbursements for stranded travelers.

The policies regularly include the bold-type mention that they apply to circumstances that are "within our control," as opposed to weather impacts, something that will likely be a point of debate between the airline and USDOT staff when any inquiry begins.

And while the government could suggest new rules as protections for travelers in future meltdowns, Mark Drusch—who has worked as an executive for airlines in the U.S. and Middle East—explained they won't be able to mandate any business changes to prevent a reoccurrence. That will be up to Southwest, which Drusch said will likely have to look at how other airlines managed the winter operations difficulties within just a few days.

"We do apologize to our customers," McVay said. "We are willing to offer hotels, ride assistance, vans."

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell said the airline's issues over the last several days "go beyond weather."

"The problems at Southwest Airlines over the last several days go beyond weather," Cantwell said. "The Committee will be looking into the causes of these disruptions and its impact to consumers. Many airlines fail to adequately communicate with consumers during flight cancellations. Consumers deserve strong protections, including an updated consumer refund rule."

Southwest is telling affected flyers to keep their receipts and to contact them via their website or customer service phone number.

On Tuesday evening, Southwest CEO Bob Jordan issued the following statement:

I want everyone who is dealing with the problems we've been facing, whether you haven't been able to get to where you need to go or you're one of our heroic Employees caught up in a massive effort to stabilize the airline, to know is that we're doing everything we can to return to a normal operation.

And please also hear that I'm truly sorry.

Here's why this giant puzzle is taking us several days to solve. Southwest is the largest carrier in the country, not only because of our value and our values, but because we build our flight schedule around communities, not hubs. So, we're the largest airline in 23 of the top 25 travel markets in the U.S.

Cities where large numbers of scheduled flights simultaneously froze as record bitter cold brought challenges for all airlines.

Our network is highly complex and the operation of the airline counts on all the pieces, especially aircraft and crews remaining in motion to where they're planned to go. With our large fleet of airplanes and flight crews out of position in dozens of locations. And after days of trying to operate as much of our full schedule across the busy holiday weekend, we reached a decision point to significantly reduce our flying to catch up.

We're focused on safely getting all of the pieces back into position to end this rolling struggle. You know, I have nothing but pride and respect for the efforts of the people of Southwest who are showing up in every way. The tools we use to recover from disruption serve us well, 99% of the time; but clearly, we need to double down on our already existing plans to upgrade systems for these extreme circumstances so that we never again face what's happening right now.

I'm apologizing to them daily and they'll be hearing more about our specific plans to ensure the challenges that they've faced the past few days will not be part of our future.

I reached out to Secretary Buttigieg earlier today to continue the discussions we've been having with the DOT through the holiday—sharing all the things that we're doing to make things right for our customers.

We always take care of our customers. And we will lean in and go above and beyond as they would expect us to. Teams are working on all of that: processing refunds, proactively reaching out and taking care of customers who are dealing with costly detours and reroutes, as just a few examples. Our plan for the next few days is to fly a reduced schedule and reposition our people and planes, and we're making headway and we're optimistic to be back on track before next week.

We have some real work to do in making this right. For now, I want you to know that we're committed to that.

Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan issues video statement 02:57
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