'Nightmare': Customers 'In Tears' As Southwest Cancels Over 70% of Flights, Prompting Probe By Department of Transportation

The Dallas-based airline is under scrutiny after widespread cancelations and delays due to winter storms that pummeled the U.S. this past weekend.

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By Emily Rella

Intense and deadly winter storms have swept the country this holiday season leaving many stranded and unable to get to and from their loved ones, especially those taking flights.

While many airlines experienced widespread delays and cancelations, one airline seemed to have it the worst — so much so that the U.S. Department of Transportation is deciding to probe its practices.

As of Tuesday morning, Southwest Airlines had canceled 63% of its flights in the U.S. (2,548 total) while delaying another 376 — with the numbers growing by the minute.

This comes after Monday's cancelation of another 2,909 flights (71% of the airline's total flights for that day) alongside another 770 delayed (18% of the airline's total flights).

Southwest customer Delaney Sheffield told Entrepreneur she flew from Austin, TX to Burbank, CA to San Francisco. She's now stranded in California without any available flights back home to Austin.

"I had five flights through Southwest canceled on Christmas Eve, another canceled yesterday [12/26], my bags completely lost, and no [one] was to get home until 12/31," she said, noting that she's still hearing "the weather" as an excuse.

"They're telling us to just 'go home' which is a hotel for most of us and since they're blaming the weather we aren't offered any means of reimbursement and any requests are denied," Sheffield added.

Other travelers took to social media to show the nightmarish airport conditions and flight cancelations that have left thousands of bags stranded on top of unsightly rebook lines wrapping around airports.

"We were fully staffed and prepared for the approaching holiday weekend when the severe weather swept across the continent, where Southwest is the largest carrier in 23 of the top 25 travel markets in the U.S.," Southwest reps said in a company statement. "These operational conditions forced daily changes to our flight schedule at a volume and magnitude that still has the tools our teams use to recover the airline operating at capacity."

Customers also pointed out that flights were unavailable for rebooking until after the New Year on TikTok.

@tomi_rae #greenscreen #southwestairlines #southwestairlinessucks #refund #tinytomi #merrychristmas2022 ♬ Ain't No Mountain High Enough - Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell

@jordan.paige.s Welcome to: my Houston airport report of the #southwestairlines fail of 2022 #southwest #houstontx #houstonhobbyairport #houstonairport #canceledflights #travel #traveltiktok #airport ♬ Coconut Mall (From "Mario Kart Wii") - Arcade Player

Though Southwest did not specify a date when flights would resume and rebook, the company stated on Monday that it would still be operating on a "reduced schedule" and would only be flying about one-third of its flights for the "next several days."

Another Southwest customer named Madison P. told Entrepreneur that her boyfriend, Josh E., was set to fly Southwest out of Denver International Airport on December 23 only to find that his flight was canceled without Southwest informing passengers. He later tried to get on a second flight that was also canceled when Madison returned to pick him up around midnight, only to see the chaos that ensued at the terminal.

"I drove back to DIA at midnight and waited in the craziest lines to pick him up," she said. "No one was allowed to grab luggage, even if they didn't plan on flying anymore."

Josh finally got a flight out of Denver on December 24 at 4 am for the hefty price of $1500 through United Airlines.

"He got home no problem with United however has yet to get a phone call or get ahold of anyone in regards to his bags," Madison said. "He learned yesterday they were still in Denver. Worst experience I have ever seen while flying. I fly Southwest this Thursday to Houston, wasn't able to change my flight because new flights were so expensive. Fingers crossed but its not looking good."

The U.S. Department of Transportation took to social media to denounce the airline's business practices as "unacceptable" and noted that they would be looking into whether or not the airline will follow through on its rebooking and refund promises to scorned customers.

Southwest, which operates out of Dallas, flew over 1 million flights last year (averaging about 3,000 per day).

CEO Bob Jordan told the Wall Street Journal that the storm and subsequent flight disruptions have resulted in the "largest-scale event" that he has "ever seen" while working at the airline.

The airline maintained that it is still experiencing "high call and social inquiry volumes" as customers frantically try to find their way to their destinations.

Emily Rella

Entrepreneur Staff

News Writer

Emily Rella is a news writer at Entrepreneur.com. Previously, she was an editor at Verizon Media. Her coverage spans features, business, lifestyle, tech, entertainment, and lifestyle. She is a 2015 graduate of Boston College and a Ridgefield, CT native. Find her on Twitter at @EmilyKRella.

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