Travelers wait to search for their luggage in a baggage holding area for Southwest Airlines on Dec. 28, 2022.Photo: Michael Ciaglo (Getty Images)
The travel nightmare wreaking havoc on the lives of thousands of Southwest Airlines passengers and staff may finally come to an end on Friday, at least according to the company.
In a statement on Thursday, Southwest said it expected to return to “normal operations with minimal disruptions” on Friday, capping off a week of hell that reportedly saw it cancel about 15,700 flights beginning on Dec. 22. The nightmare scenario stranded countless passengers far away from their destinations, sent their luggage to who knows where, and gave Southwest workers frostbite after working grueling shifts in the cold weather.
Yet, the airline was still struggling when it released the statement saying everything was going to be OK. On Thursday, it canceled 2,510, or 61%, of its scheduled flights, according to FlightAware, an online flight tracker.
“We know even our deepest apologies – to our Customers, to our Employees, and to all affected through this disruption – only go so far,” Southwest said. “We have much work ahead of us, including investing in new solutions to manage wide-scale disruptions.”
In addition, the airline unveiled a dedicated page on its website where customers can submit reimbursement requests for meals, hotel, and alternative transportation expenses. Unfortunately, the reimbursement form is not on the page itself. Southwest directs passengers with cancelled flights to send it an email. After a bit of navigating, you eventually do get to a form, which appears to be straightforward.
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If you’re at your wit’s end, don’t worry. We’ve boiled it down for you. Click here to get to the “Email Us” page. Then, select the option for “complaint.” After that, click on “flight” and then “flight cancellation.” Once all that’s selected, click “Next” and you’ll be taken to the form, where you’ll be asked to provide your flight information, describe your experience, and upload any files (AKA receipts).
Select the following options to submit a complaint related to a flight cancellation and request reimbursement.Screenshot: Jody Serrano / Gizmodo / Southwest Airlines
Besides reimbursement for expenses, the page also has resources to help passengers locate their bags via an online form, request a refund for an unused ticket, and rebook their flights.
Southwest’s meltdown has echoed across the country, prompting responses from Biden administration officials and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Earlier this week, transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg lambasted the company and pledged that his agency would hold it accountable for its responsibilities to customers, including providing cash refunds to people who decided not to travel, meal vouchers, and hotel accommodations.
The company’s troubles began with a winter storm that forced it to cancel thousands of flights leading up to Christmas. In addition to the storm, Southwest experienced technical problems with its scheduling system, which was overwhelmed by the flight cancellations and was unable to keep track of where the company’s pilots and crews were. Its troubles were exacerbated by its unique “point-to-point” route model that favors flying directly to smaller cities and regions without stopping at a major hub airport.