Southwest crew members are sleeping in airports, Buttigieg says

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As Southwest Airlines’ flight cancellation meltdown continues, crew members are being stranded in airports alongside passengers, according to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Buttigieg on Tuesday met with unions representing Southwest pilots and flight attendants, and said they told him crew members were in a ‘terrible situation’ alongside passengers.

‘They’re frustrated and often stranded, and they themselves are often sleeping in airports so you have a company that’s got a lot of cleaning up to do,’ Buttigieg said in an interview on CNN.

Stranded Southwest crew members have reportedly resorted to sleeping on cots in airports when unable to book hotel rooms, which an airline spokesperson told DailyMail.com the company will pay for.

On Tuesday, a day after most other US airlines had recovered from a major winter storm, Southwest called off another 2,600 more flights, or about 64 percent of its flight schedule. 

Southwest crew members are sleeping in airports, Buttigieg says

A stranded passenger holds her 14-month-old daughter as she waits with family members at the Southwest terminal at the Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Tuesday met with unions representing Southwest pilots and flight attendants, and said they told him crew members were in a 'terrible situation'

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Tuesday met with unions representing Southwest pilots and flight attendants, and said they told him crew members were in a ‘terrible situation’

Southwest Airlines travellers wait in a long line to check on their baggage from their cancelled flights at Chicago Midway International Airport

Southwest Airlines travellers wait in a long line to check on their baggage from their cancelled flights at Chicago Midway International Airport

Travellers at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport queue up

Travellers at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport queue up 

A day after the Transportation Department announced a probe into the issues at Southwest, Buttigieg told CNN that the agency would use ‘enforcement powers and fines’ to hold airlines accountable to their customer service commitments.

Buttigieg said that he had spoken with Southwest’s CEO, who had pledged that the airline would proactively offer hotel and restaurant vouchers for stranded passengers. 

In a video statement on Tuesday, Southwest CEO Bob Jordan publicly apologized to customers and employees as the epic meltdown stretched into its fourth day.

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‘We’re doing everything we can to return to a normal operation,’ said Jordan, who called the fiasco a ‘giant puzzle is taking us several days to solve’.

Jordan blamed the fiasco on Southwest’s unique carrier model, which relies on rolling hubs and a point-to-point network rather than the hub-and-spoke system used by other airlines.

‘Our network is highly complex and the operation of the airline counts on all the pieces, especially aircraft and crews remaining in motion to where they’re planned to go,’ he said.

A traveler rests amid his belongings in Denver International Airport on Tuesday

A traveler rests amid his belongings in Denver International Airport on Tuesday

A massive amount of unclaimed luggage is gathered at the Southwest Airlines baggage claim at Midway Airport on Tuesday in Chicago

A massive amount of unclaimed luggage is gathered at the Southwest Airlines baggage claim at Midway Airport on Tuesday in Chicago

A person looks for lost luggage near the baggage carousel at Chicago Midway International Airport

A person looks for lost luggage near the baggage carousel at Chicago Midway International Airport

‘With our large fleet of airplanes and flight crews out of position in dozens of locations, and after days of trying to operate as much of our full schedule across the busy holiday weekend, we reached a decision point to significantly reduce our flying to catch up,’ added Jordan. 

Jordan said he was in contact with the US Department of Transportation and had ‘reached out’ to Buttigieg earlier on Tuesday. 

Late Monday, the DOT tweeted that it would examine ‘Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancellations’ and whether the airline was meeting its legal obligations to stranded customers.

In Congress, the Senate Commerce Committee also promised an investigation. Two Senate Democrats called on Southwest to provide ‘significant’ compensation for stranded travelers, saying that the airline has the money because it plans to pay $428 million in dividends next month.

President Joe Biden also weighed in as desperate passengers were forced to sleep in terminals surrounded by growing mounds of lost luggage.

‘Thousands of flights nationwide have been canceled around the holidays. Our Administration is working to ensure airlines are held accountable,’ Biden wrote on Twitter. 

Travelers search for their luggage at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in Louisiana on Tuesday

Travelers search for their luggage at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in Louisiana on Tuesday

Thousands of people have been affected by the travel chaos. Pictured - Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport)

Thousands of people have been affected by the travel chaos. Pictured – Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport) 

Southwest Airlines travellers baggage lies unclaimed at Chicago Midway International Airport

Southwest Airlines travellers baggage lies unclaimed at Chicago Midway International Airport

The Southwest cancellations on Tuesday accounted for more than 80 percent of the 3,000 trips that got canceled nationwide Tuesday, according to tracking service FlightAware.

And the chaos seemed certain to continue. The airline has already scrubbed another 2,500 flights for Wednesday and nearly 1,400 for Thursday as it tried to restore order to its mangled schedule.

At airports with major Southwest operations, customers stood in long lines hoping to find a seat on another flight. 

They described waiting hours on hold for help, only to be cut off. Some tried to rent cars to get to their destinations sooner. Others found spots to sleep on the floor. Luggage piled up in huge heaps.

One woman told the Wall Street Journal: ‘The flight from Phoenix got delayed by seven hours then they canceled my flight from Phoenix to Houston so I’m stuck at the airport. 

‘They were supposed to get my luggage back. I’ve been looking since last night. Luggage is nowhere to be found, and [I’m] just stuck here.’  

Conrad Stoll, a 66-year-old retired construction worker in Missouri, planned to fly from Kansas City to Los Angeles for his father’s 90th birthday party until his Southwest flight was canceled early Tuesday. He said he won’t get to see his 88-year-old 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.”

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Stoll hopes to get another chance to see his parents in the spring, when the weather is warmer. 

Travelers wade through the south security checkpoint in Denver International Airport Tuesday

Travelers wade through the south security checkpoint in Denver International Airport Tuesday

Another would-be traveler, Mike Sage, who had planned to fly to Florida on Monday from Connecticut, described the chaos as a ‘complete meltdown’.

After Southwest’s phone and internet system ‘collapsed’, Mr Sage drove to the airport and waiting in line for two hours to get a replacement ticket for Saturday. 

‘When (the attendant) handed me the ticket, she looked me in the eyes and said: ‘If I were you, I would not count on this flight either,’ he said. 

‘I would book with another airline. We have crews stranded all over, pilots sleeping on the floor in airports.’

The problems began over the weekend and snowballed Monday, when Southwest called off more than 70 percent of its flights.

That was after the worst of the storm had passed. The airline said many pilots and flight attendants were out of position to work their flights. Leaders of unions representing Southwest pilots and flight attendants blamed antiquated crew-scheduling software and criticized company management.

Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said the airline failed to fix problems that caused a similar meltdown in October 2021.

‘There is a lot of frustration because this is so preventable,’ Murray said. ‘The airline cannot connect crews to airplanes. The airline didn’t even know where pilots were at.’

Murray said managers resorted this week to asking pilots at some airports to report to a central location, where they wrote down the names of pilots who were present and forwarded the lists to headquarters.

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