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Southwest Airlines disrupts holiday travel with hundreds of canceled flights

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As the majority of holiday travelers experienced smoother journeys this Christmas, Southwest Airlines faced challenges, canceling approximately 157 flights within the U.S. on Christmas Day, impacting travel plans for numerous passengers. According to FlightAware, a tracking service, 2,058 flights were delayed as of 5:25 p.m. Eastern Time.

Despite a record-low 1.2% cancellation rate for U.S. flights leading up to December 22, Southwest Airlines, notorious for disruptions during last year’s holiday season, encountered operational issues again. While blaming foggy weather in Chicago, the airline also acknowledged a workforce shortage as a contributing factor, leaving passengers stranded at Chicago’s Midway International Airport on Christmas Eve.

Denver International Airport witnessed a significant impact as well, with Southwest canceling 293 flights and delaying nearly 1,300 trips on Sunday. The airline continued to face challenges on Monday, canceling 109 flights (2% of daily trips) and experiencing 693 delays, as reported by FlightAware. In contrast, major carriers Delta and United Airlines had minimal disruptions.

Social media reflected passenger frustration, with one individual expressing, “[Y]ou guys ruined my Christmas two years in a row.” Southwest Airlines, having settled for $140 million with the federal government earlier this month for the chaos during the previous holiday season, faces increased scrutiny. The airline has committed to over $600 million in refunds and reimbursements to affected customers.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg emphasized the accountability of the airline industry, stating on December 18, “This is a message to the entire airline industry: They must take care of passengers, or we’ll use the full extent of our authority to hold them accountable.” Meanwhile, a winter storm in the Northern Plains adds another layer of challenge, impacting road conditions across several states.

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