Southwest Airlines plans to return to normal operations with minimal disruptions on Friday, the carrier said on Thursday.
“While Southwest continues to operate roughly one third of its schedule for Thursday, Dec. 29, we plan to return to normal operations with minimal disruptions on Friday, Dec. 30,” the company said in a statement.
The announcement came after 2,300 flights nationwide were canceled Thursday, creating continued travel frustrations at Southern California airports and leaving travelers stranded in cities all across the country.
Long lines greet travelers at airports in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and Riverside counties with people looking for flights on other airlines. Many turned to rental car companies for transportation to their holiday destinations. Some were left waiting on hold for hours for assistance and were sleeping on the floor of airports.
One traveler, Conrad Stoll, a 66-year-old retired construction worker in Missouri told CBS News he was planning to fly from Kansas City to Los Angeles for his father’s 90th birthday, but his Southwest Airlines flight was canceled Tuesday. He won’t be able to see his mother either.
“I went there in 2019, and she looked at me and said, `I’m not going to see you again.’ ” Stoll said. “My sister has been taking care of them, and she’s just like, ‘They’re really losing it really quick.’ “
Meanwhile, thousands of passengers and their luggage remained in limbo in Southern California and across the nation as Southwest Airlines continued to scrub the majority of its flights as it worked to recover from a failure in its scheduling systems combined with a devastating winter storm.
A total of 168 inbound and outbound Southwest flights at San Diego International Airport were canceled by Wednesday afternoon, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware. Southwest accounted for the bulk of the 174 overall flight cancellations to and from the airport.
Of all the canceled fights on Wednesday in the country, about 86% of them, or more than 2,500, were from Southwest Airlines, according to FlightAware.
The airline has been operating about one-third of usual flight volume as it worked to reset its systems and reposition its aircraft and flight crews, many of which were left out of position as the weather and computer failures combined to devastate Southwest’s operations.
That led to mass cancellations of flights in Southern California and beyond, leaving many passengers stranded, unable to reach their destinations and often unable to even locate their checked luggage.
Stranded passengers were left with few alternatives, with the Southwest Airlines’ website listing all flights departing from Southern California airports as “unavailable” through Saturday.
The airline issued an apology to stranded holiday travelers, stating that its operational challenges stem from last week’s historic winter storm.
“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,” according to a Southwest statement. “We’re 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.”
The airline added, “And our heartfelt apologies for this are just beginning.”
In a video posted online Tuesday afternoon, Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan said that cadence would continue through the week as it works to reposition its crews and airplanes.
“We’re doing everything we can to return to a normal operation,” he said.
“… We always take care of our customers and we will lean in and go above and beyond as they would expect us to,” he said. “… 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 of being back on track before next week. We have some real work to do in making this right.”
Jordan again blamed the “bitter cold” for the problems, but also acknowledged that the airline needs to make improvements in its scheduling systems “so that we never again face what’s happening right now.”
Officials with the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a statement calling the Southwest situation “unacceptable.”
“USDOT is concerned by Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays and reports of lack of prompt customer service,” the department stated. “The department will examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan.”
Jordan said in his video that he has reached out to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to discuss the steps the airline has taken to rectify the issues.
Southwest Airlines said it was fully staffed late last week and prepared for the approaching Christmas weekend when severe weather swept across the continent.
“On the other side of this, we’ll work to make things right for those we’ve let down, including our employees,” the airline stated.
Impacted travelers can find more information a southwest.com/traveldisruption.
Updated at 10:45 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022
Reuters and City News Service contributed to this article.