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Southwest moves toward near-normal operations after widespread cancellations

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

It has been a very bad, no good holiday season for Southwest Airline passengers. April Proveaux was one of them. The Memphis resident was traveling with her family when they got stuck last week at Denver International Airport.

APRIL PROVEAUX: It was negative 3 degrees in Denver, and our jackets were in our suitcase, and so my kids were in short sleeves. And we didn't have anything. We bought some hats and gloves at the airport.

MARTÍNEZ: Hers was among the thousands of Southwest flights scrapped since a massive winter storm started disrupting air travel last week. Democrats and Republicans in Congress have complained to the airline and the U.S. Department of Transportation for not acting sooner to protect passengers. Now, we've heard lots of explanations for the meltdown, like old technology and the airline's unusual approach to routing flights. A former employee tells NPR that she recently left Southwest because of the chaotic scheduling and mandatory overtime.

HALLY CHAUVIN: This is exactly why this is happening, is 'cause you just keep giving your employees overtime, and you'll fire them if they say no.

MARTÍNEZ: Hally Chauvin says she often worked 20-hour shifts.

CHAUVIN: I keep saying now, like, to my friends, like, this is why I quit. You know, it seemed like it wasn't really talked about. A lot of the employees there, like, can't really talk about it because it risks their jobs. They can't really, like, post about it on social media or anything.

MARTÍNEZ: In a statement, Southwest says the recent disruptions are due to crew scheduling issues, not a lack of staffing. The company says it will honor reasonable requests for reimbursement from customers whose flights were canceled or significantly delayed. But April Proveaux is still wondering whether she'll get her money back.

PROVEAUX: I feel nervous that they're going to try to not reimburse us.

MARTÍNEZ: Southwest's Chief Commercial Officer Ryan Green recently apologized for the cancellations.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RYAN GREEN: My personal apology on behalf of myself and everyone at Southwest Airlines for all of this.

MARTÍNEZ: But even after all the hassle, April Proveaux isn't giving up on the airline.

PROVEAUX: I hope they recover. Like, we love Southwest. We've flown them for years, and we're cardholders. We used points to fly this trip.

MARTÍNEZ: Southwest says it plans to return to normal operations with minimal disruptions today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.