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Southwest Airlines cancellations leave thousands stranded in airports nationwide

Southwest Airlines passengers at Dallas Love Field Airport wait in line to rebook cancelled flights.
Toluwani Osibamowo
Southwest Airlines passengers at Dallas Love Field Airport wait in line to rebook canceled flights.

Even in cities where the cold and ice has mostly cleared, Southwest Airlines is still working to recover from major disruptions over the holiday weekend.

Thousands of Southwest Airlines passengers across the country remain stranded after widespread flight cancellations and delays.

Winter storm Elliott, which brought cold and ice to much of the United States, caused operational disruptions for airports and carriers nationwide.

But the Dallas-based airline has by far had the hardest time recovering from the storm. Southwest canceled more than 2,500 flights Tuesday, according to FlightAware, more than any other airline.

In a statement released Monday, Southwest apologized for persisting delays, saying the airline is working on “rebalancing.”

This includes cutting two-thirds of scheduled flights in the coming days, according to the statement.

Dozens of Southwest passengers waited in line at Dallas Love Field Airport on Tuesday with hopes of rebooking their flights home. Many had stayed with family in the area or at hotels overnight before returning to the airport in the morning.

Elaina Taylor and her cousin Marlene were set to fly home to Buffalo, New York, on Christmas Day. When their flight was canceled, Taylor said she spent more than two hours on hold with Southwest, never speaking to a representative.

“I should be able to call and, you know, know if I can get on another flight instead of driving 30 minutes to get here and waiting in line for two hours,” Taylor said.

Dennis Tajer is a pilot and spokesperson for American Airlines’ pilot union. He said in these situations, it’s not about the weather event behind the disruption, it’s about the recovery.

American Airlines canceled 25 flights Tuesday yet delayed hundreds, ranking second behind Southwest, according to FlightAware. But low-cost airlines like Southwest use a point-to-point network, with planes flying from location to location without a central home base.

This can mean there are fewer crews to operate flights every day, but Tajer said this system isn’t an excuse for major disruptions.

“You play the game with the equipment and the network you have, and if it's a surprise to you that point-to-point is difficult to recover from, then you're not doing your job to plan,” Tajer said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said it will hold Southwest accountable if the airline does not properly accommodate passengers dealing with delays and cancellations.

Dallas-area Congressman Colin Allred also released a statement, saying his staff on the Aviation Subcommittee are monitoring the situation and speaking with stakeholders.

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Toluwani Osibamowo is a general assignments reporter for KERA. She previously worked as a news intern for Texas Tech Public Media and copy editor for Texas Tech University’s student newspaper, The Daily Toreador, before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She is originally from Plano.