Southwest cancels more flights as rival carriers cap fares for stranded flyers

Southwest Airlines warns of more disruptions ahead as CEO apologizes

Southwest Airlines slashed another 2,500 flights on Wednesday, sending more frustrated customers scrambling to find seats on other airlines.

The Dallas-based carrier’s cuts amounted to 60% of its schedule and nearly 90% of overall cancellations in the U.S. on Wednesday, marking another day of disruptions even as weather conditions and operations at other airlines improved.

Close to 60% of Southwest flights were already canceled for Thursday. It scrubbed less than 1% of the schedule for Friday, but the carrier still has to accommodate the thousands of travelers left stranded by its meltdown.

Airlines have canceled thousands of flights since last week when severe winter weather roiled holiday travel around the U.S., but Southwest’s outsized disruptions have drawn scrutiny from the Biden administration and lawmakers. Southwest has blamed its performance on its internal technology platforms that were overloaded by schedule changes.

That forced pilots and flight attendants to reach out to scheduling services by phone for new assignments, hotels and other accommodations. Hold times lasted hours, crews and unions said.

“There are hoards of Teams working on solutions right now and have been for days and days,” Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said in a staff message on Tuesday. “Ultimately, though, this stops with me. I’m accountable for this and I own our issues and I own our recovery. I want you to know that as well.”

To help stranded travelers, Delta Air Lines said Wednesday that it “capped fares in all the markets Southwest operates” and that the fares are valid through Saturday. American Airlines said it did so in “cities severely affected by cancellations” and United Airlines said it has capped fares in “select cities.”

Massive flight cancellations expected to have ripple effects on the broader travel sector

The airlines did not provide further details. The moves came after Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg urged other carriers to cap fares.

Southwest said it would reimburse travelers for “reasonable” hotel, meal and alternative transportation expenses if customers submit receipts. Earlier this week, Southwest CEO Bob Jordan told employees the carrier would fly just about one-third of its schedule for several days to try to reset its operations.

Southwest shares on Wednesday fell more than competitors’ for a second day in a row.

Frustrations for travelers trying to find their way home were heightened because the scarcity of of spare seats on other airlines during the busy holiday period.

Airlines will routinely limit last-minute fares, which are generally high and often coincide with limited seats, during emergencies like hurricanes so travelers can evacuate.

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