Southwest Airlines Co. canceled more than two-thirds of its flights Monday and plans to slash its schedules Tuesday and Wednesday, in a meltdown that stranded thousands of customers and that worsened while other airlines began to recover from the holiday winter storm.
“We had a tough day today. In all likelihood we’ll have another tough day tomorrow as we work our way out of this,” Chief Executive Bob Jordan said in an interview Monday evening. “This is the largest scale event that I’ve ever seen.”
plans to operate just over one-third of its typical schedule in the coming days to give itself leeway for crews to get into the right positions, he said, adding that the reduced schedule could be extended.
Southwest’s more than 2,800 scrapped flights Monday, the highest of any major U.S. airline, came as the Dallas-based airline proved unable to stabilize its operations amid the past week’s storm. Between Thursday and Monday, the airline canceled about 8,000 flights, according to FlightAware.
On Monday, the Department of Transportation called Southwest’s rate of cancellations “disproportionate and unacceptable” and said it would examine whether the cancellations were controllable and whether the airline is complying with its customer service plan.
Ryan Green, Southwest’s chief commercial officer, said in an interview the airline is taking steps such as covering customers’ reasonable travel costs—including hotels, rental cars and tickets on other airlines, and will be communicating the process for customers to have expenses reimbursed. He also said customers whose flights are being canceled as the airline recovers are entitled to refunds if they opt not to travel.
The troubles at Southwest intensified Monday despite generally improving weather conditions and warming temperatures throughout much of the eastern half of the country, which had been pummeled by snow, wind and subfreezing temperatures in recent days.
An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.
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