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Frustrations continue Monday for Southwest passengers after mass cancellations this weekend

Earns Southwest
Posted at 6:16 PM, Oct 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-11 23:18:11-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Travel headaches continued for some Southwest Airlines passengers on Monday after hundreds of flights on the airline were canceled and delayed nationwide this weekend.

“We got a delay notice on the phone, then a second delay notice on the phone, and then a text that said your flight is canceled,” said Kim Felix.

Felix and her husband, Kelly, of California, said they had three canceled flights on Southwest since Friday while trying to get to Tampa for the Bucs game, ultimately ending up in Ft. Lauderdale, renting a car, and driving the rest of the way.

“We just hope we can get home,” said Kelly Felix.

It’s a similar story for other Southwest passengers. Joanna Braddock was trying to get home to the Tampa Bay area from Texas, showing ABC Action News a screenshot of her on hold with the airline for over three hours this weekend trying to straighten out the travel nightmare.

“It’s challenging though when you can’t reach anyone and then when you’re watching the news and looking on social media and there’s a lot of inconsistent stories about what the heck happened,” said Braddock.

Tampa International Airport says Southwest is its largest carrier, serving nearly 30 percent of its total passengers.

According to Flight Aware, Southwest saw more than 1,100 canceled flights on Sunday, while as of Monday afternoon, there were about 360 cancellations for the day.

In a statement Monday, Southwest Airlines told ABC Action News on Friday evening, it ended the day with numerous cancellations, primarily created by weather and other external constraints, which it says left aircraft and crews out of pre-planned positions to operate its schedule Saturday.

“Unfortunately, the out-of-place aircraft and continued strain on our crew resources created additional cancellations across our point-to-point network that cascaded throughout the weekend and into Monday,” the statement from Southwest read.

Speculation on social media also had people wondering if vaccine mandates played a role, though the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association said in a statement they “can say with confidence that our Pilots are not participating in any official or unofficial job actions.” Southwest’s statement also indicated that operational challenges weren’t a result of employee demonstrations.

“If you don’t have any slack in your schedule, pretty much the chance to recover is going to be difficult,” said Dr. Ahmed Abdelghany, the associate dean for research at the David O'Maley College of Business at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Dr. Abdelghany pointed to possible issues like airlines over-promising, while also saying the ability to recover depends on the availability of resources and how busy your schedule is.

“When you over-promise, typically you squeeze your schedule, you squeeze your staff, and then you face the reality during operation when you cannot operate at that stage, especially when you’re hit by disruptions because disruptions will need the slack, and you don’t have it,” said Dr. Abdelghany.

ABC Action News asked Dr. Abdelghany how what happened with Southwest over the weekend could have an impact on future bookings.

“They learned their lesson from what happened over the weekend, is that if I over-promised, and I’m put in a situation like that that impacted my customers, impacted my reputation as an airline, and so on, I will go look to my future schedules, and I will try to promise what really I can do,” said Abdelghany.

Now inching closer to the holiday travel season, industry experts say even before the pandemic when traveling, people should expect some disruptions, recommending people do their homework before they fly, like checking how long your connection is and how many itineraries an airline has for your destination throughout the day.

AAA suggests signing up for TSA PreCheck and considering travel insurance, reminding that even if it’s not a staffing or weather issue, people should expect the unexpected.

“We’ve seen it already this year with airline cancellations and delays and now again this past weekend, so it stands to reason that it could certainly happen again as we head into the holiday season,” said Mark Jenkins, a AAA spokesperson.