With Southwest Airlines In Disarray, Its Phone Systems Melt Down

Like yesterday, Southwest Airlines again led the world in most flight cancellations. They aren’t just short pilots and ramp agents. With half of the airline’s flights delayed – again – customers all over the country have needed help getting rebooked. And the airline’s phone system chose today to melt down.

In order to address phone system problems, Southwest actually stopped taking phone calls.

One call center agent offers,

In the middle of all the craziness, phone servers are down, I can’t hear my customers and so many agents are no showing today because they don’t want to deal with the abuse from customers who keep calling because we can’t help them. They are offering 3x pay tomorrow and 1.5x for the next few weeks.

Southwest is offering their phone agents triple pay to help dig out of the current mess with customers.

Here’s how the airline is describing the confluence events that’s led to their holiday meltdown. Nowhere does a lack of sufficient staffing get mentioned.

It’s been a bad day to fly. Delta cancelled 22% of its mainline operation so far today. United has cancelled 12%. Alaska, with its Seattle hub in disarray, has cancelled 30%. American Airlines has been a relative bright spot with just 3% cancellations (but 25% delays) at main line. Nowhere has it been more challenging, though, than Southwest.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. AA knew what time it was from last year and preemptively increased the holiday pay. The only thing that messed up their operations was the weather which they cannot control. Southwest is sending memos threatening and demanding doc notes from employees and employees are feeling low with morale. Good luck to all

  2. Welcome to the future!

    Once upon a time, a PBX was carrier class hardware, and trunks were copper. Continental Air had the first airline call center and it was rock solid.

    Now, call center is all software, and telephony is data.

    And of course, data people don’t expect 5-9’s service, or understand redundancy and burst planning.

    And here we are. Aspect (software) and Salesforce (software) is running the desktop, and I believe Cisco IP tel for diatone (again, software).

    If it all isn’t perfect during times of stress, then this happens.

    How far we have come, eh?

  3. AS is currently quoting wait times over 8 hours — “current longest call holding…”, no callback mechanism, and contrary to what they say, not all reservations can be updated online.

  4. Air Canada has been in total disarray yesterday and today.

    I connected in YYZ and sat on aircraft for three hours waiting for ground crew to load bags etc. We canceled waiting.

    Yesterday for canceled. And today got canceled. It’s a Christmas not with family.

    Ramp workers just didn’t show up for work. This is purely a staffing with AC control. Today is fine. And should be service recovery. But got worse.

  5. What a collapse.

    Very telling that Southwest CEO Bob Jordan is totally missing in action (along with the rest of the senior management team) during an operational meltdown of epic proportions.

  6. Southwest has immediately implemented, and without warning the Frontier and Breeze no live telephone support business model.

    The Southwest board will issue millions of preferred shares to Jordan, Van de Ven, Watterson and as a special bonus for Kelly for their teamwork in getting rid of telephone calls.

    When Wall Street resumes trading, the LUV shares are going to zoom higher than a MAX on departure!


  7. Day three of a lost bag. Two Dixie Cups and a string are more technically advanced than their bag tracking system. The agents we’ve spoken to, when we’re able to get through, have admitted they are only guessing at this point as to where bags are. Not investing in tech upgrades is such a black eye to Southwest. Utterly shambolic.

  8. As a traveler I am devastated. I was supposed to travel on Southwest DCA-STL-LAS today with a party of 6, including my wife’s parents who are here from overseas. I started calling at 11:57am ET this morning when I saw a small delay on DCA-STL, just to be check. After holding for over an hour, I was twice bumped. I went on to make 26 more calls, most of which were immediately met with a busy signal. Between all that we had no choice but to leave for the airport. At the airport we stood in line for over two hours, on hold as well for over an hour. We quit the call when we finally made it to the counter, only to be told that the next flight we could get on was the 28th of December – 4 days from today. And that this is all an act of weather, so they are responsible for nothing. Now I am scrambling to cancel hotels, rental cars and entertainment with some vendors already refusing and not yet agreeing. And I’m out a couple of hundred for Uber trips. Our family stands to lose over $6,000 if these vendors won’t come towards us. It cannot be acceptable that travel is such a gamble for consumers. And beside the money, a once-in-a-lifetime trip is obliterated. Oh, and so far not one text or email from Southwest. Zero acknowledgment. Too busy preparing for their Christmas fun I’m sure to care about what they’ve done to others.

  9. Fundamental challenge for the entire West and increasingly the US of A…not enough people to work.

    We’re living longer than ever (other than the brain-dead Trump anti-vax lunatics) and hence will demand services for an increasing period of time.

    Yet birth rates continue to fall and we don’t have a functioning immigration system to provide for our labor shortage.

    This inevitably will mean higher inflation due to wage pressure and poorer service.

  10. I mean when AA cancels less than the other majors. He’ll must have froze over! Literally haha

    500 at delta. Over 1k at southwest today. Of course every dumps on every except delta.. they can do no wrong

  11. Half of their flights delayed? That’s it?
    Air Canada sends out 34% of their flights on time, in the summer! (source OAG)

  12. Something must have happened in last month. I used call center to assist in flight change, no issue. Same during need to change flight in summer. I fly PIT to TPA and back alot. Love the airline.

  13. @GaryLeff I haven’t seen this in any of the travel blogs but there seems to also be an issue with checked baggage handling at DFW. My bags have sat there for over 24 hours now and according to one of the agents I spoke with the handling system is down and AA has over 10,000 bags piling up at DFW thus far.

  14. Southwest is a joke airline. Half my flights with them are delayed, only reason I put up with them is because of companion pass but even that benefit is getting overshadowed by their incompetence…. That’s right, I’d rather start paying x2 than fly Southwest…

  15. If you don’t like the SW Airlines, stay home on Christmas! The weather in the entire country is not the fault of this great company and we all were inconvenienced because of weather out of our control, Green Peace loosers! You can always take the bus, train or taxi, lmbo

  16. It’s been a frustrating weekend. Christmas vacation ruined. Southwest cancelled and rebooked us for a much later flight, and then cancelled the later flight right as we pulled up to the airport. It pity the poor agents at the baggage counter, the sole public-facing representatives of Southwest Airlines at Colorado Springs Airport, faced with hundreds of distraught customers in two long single file lines. People were crying. One lady was desperate to make it home to San Diego by Christmas, after her flights were cancelled FIVE times. Meanwhile, Southwest is completely unreachable. Even the semi-secret “A-List” number is hard down. At first it was just a busy signal. Now my carrier (Verizon) won’t even route calls to them.

    I’m luckier than most. I’m not trying to get home. I just wanted a short holiday after a rough few months of work. I’ve enjoyed Companion Pass privileges with Southwest and they expire at the end of the year. No way is there enough time to reschedule our trip before my Companion Pass runs out. But this is in no way my fault, and I will pushing hard to have Southwest make this right.

  17. GO WOKE, GO BROKE. I retired from SWA 2020 and even before that they were pushing the whole homosexual agenda, race issues, the whole PC gauntlet. Typical liberalism just suck the joy out of anything they get a hold of and ruin it for everyone so all will become just as petty, bitter and as unhappy as they are.

  18. Sitting here Christmas Eve, nothing available until the 26th. Could understand if going to one of the weather related states, nope California to a place in Oregon that is currently 47 degrees and clear. So say you with our plane on the tarmac that it’s weather being the issue.?
    Oh and on the phone now…over two hours. hubs in line along with another human located at another kiosk on phone and standing in line. I think SW may be headed for a long road of recovery for this mess. I know listening to patrons here at the airport there is about 150 who have sworn off them. Guessing this is just a little taste of what they are getting around the US. Not to mention the poor people working the kiosks who are dealing with upset people.

  19. I did 25 years on the ramp for one of the majors. Management never appreciated the dedicated workforce and dumped the old heads with COVID relief money. Now, there is little in the institutional memory left. People who work the ramp now are leaving to make more money elsewhere and the newbies cannot be found because they can make more elsewhere and do not have to work in the weather. A scale takes ten years seniority now and people will not wait anymore. Ramp work is hard, dangerous and no longer rewarding. Not to mention if you get hurt, management will not support you.There was once pride and a sense of doing the hard work, no matter the conditions. Good luck VP’s trying to get a workforce.

  20. I would like very much for a lawyer to contact me regarding my cancellation with Southwest today. We were not informed of any of this for our 1:05pm flight, but instead were repeatedly delayed until our flight was finally cancelled at ~4:30pm. No information was given from there on what to do. We were forced to figure out on our own how to find our already checked baggage. We stood in line 3 hours only to find out Southwest could not re-book our flight until Wednesday the 28th! Southwest all but ruined our holidays with our family. Had Southwest simply notified us Friday our flight would be cancelled we could have made alternate arrangements. NO HOTEL VOUCHERS were ever offered to us when they thought we would be put out for FOUR nights while they recover.

  21. My 70-year old mother stranded in BWI tonight because Southwest didn’t have a pilot and/or crew to fly to St. Louis. She suffers from dementia and was to have assistance the entire time. They left her for dead. She sat 3 hours in a wheelchair with no help. Eventually, she got herself to a line for a gate agent. My mother called me so I could speak to the agent. I informed the lady agent of her situation and her dementia and still, the lady couldn’t have been more rude. I was and am still in shock. I ended up speaking to a supervisor and told him the situation and she was to have assistance. The supervisor then had the same beyond rude agent wheel her to baggage service where they intended to have her sit in her wheelchair overnight…from 1:30am to 11:30am flight time. WTF kind on insanity does Southwest have going? There was one bright spot for Southwest…all I know is her name is Diamond and she personally ensured my mother was wheeled directly to an Uber I had ordered.

    To be clear and I’m sure to no one’s surprise…zero compensation is being offered. No food, no drink, no hotel, no money back, no voucher and most certainly no compassion (with the exception of Diamond). On what planet does an airline understaff and cancel flights and offer absolutely nothing to it’s customers?

  22. American Airlines is doing a great job since Parker (former CEO) is gone. Maybe Southwest should consider firing their CEO.

  23. My daughter was at the airport over 8hrs waiting on her flight, just to be told that her flight was canceled…no customer service help… no refund…no nothing for waiting… he’ll didn’t even know where her luggage was… I will be making a complaint

  24. Tellings comments from the lot of you about the inner (un)workings of a “modern” airline. I had a friend who worked for Sabre, albeit on their business solutions side, but they had intimate knowledge about how fragile the backend is for most major airlines. For instance, and I’m being decidedly vague, my friend told me some airlines’ scheduling systems still run on old-school black-screen, green-text user interfaces with DOS-like entries required of users.

    Anyhow, at Love Field yesterday afternoon, a Southwest pilot came onto the gate PA and in a very polite way, threw shade at Southwest, the flight’s ops manager, and I believe at a flight attendant who chose not to show up for a scheduled shift.

    I’m a premium-tier rewards member with Southwest and usually never wait longer than a minute to be connected to a live agent if I have to call. It was a bit disconcerting that that luxury vanished yesterday, though I understand that it’s a confluence of staffing shortage and now also “modern” SaaS.

    Ugh! Safe travels y’all!

  25. My problem with southwest was that they hid behind the storm to deal with their incompetence and staff shortages.

    My flight was canceled three hours from its departure time and on a two different calls to rebook- I was on hold for over three hours to book
    new flights for family – and each time that I got through the flights that I identified were gone.

    Why couldn’t I modify my reservation on my own computer ?

    Xmas is ruined- wife will not even talk to me- threatening divorce – calling me a cheap skate

    Way to go southwest

  26. @ M. Yani.

    When my similarly afflicted mother in law was to visit us in Washington from London, I flew there and brought her back.

  27. United was excellent. At 11pm the night before my morning flight of LAX-IAD-MUC-VIE, to my dismay, the LAX-IAD flight was delayed that would cause me to miss all my connections. After waiting for one hour on the phone, I noticed that United has video calling with an agent. The agent picked up within a few minutes. I was put on a direct flight to MUC with Lufthansa. Since this was a last minute reservation with Lufthansa, my seat was the very last row on a A350. But at checkin, I was offered a $200 premium economy upgrade and I grab it. Currently on the final MUC-VIE, waiting to drr we part and everything has been excellent.

  28. M. Yani

    Your Mother has dementia and she’s flying alone ??? you should of gotten her !!! Airlines do not watch peoples parents because their kids are too lazy to get them !!!!!!!!! Wheel Chair people just do that from plane to plane they don’t sit and babysit. If your mother is too sick to fly alone then she shouldn’t be !!!!!!!!!

  29. People complaining about delayed or cancelled flights knowing the weather is the reason look so spoiled. I guess you’d like to get on a flight in dangerous conditions? You don’t value your life? Seeing these type of complaints make me scared because maybe airlines will stop safety measures in fear of petty complaints.

  30. We are in the middle of a dangerous climate disaster winter bomb cyclone storm. 90% of the country is below 32f and you idiots are surprised flights are canceled?

  31. Super annoying flight ever had even if it will be my last choice i wont came to airport for 5th time no customer service worst agents they don’t know about flights first they said flight canceled after i check it flew n bags were already checked in n now i have no acess to pick tgat up its in bellingham airport n now no flight to go. Worst worst worst

  32. Today, flying is like gambling. You win some, you lose some. Airlines can’t control the weather. What bothers me is the lack of aircrew and aircraft. To have a flight delayed or canceled because of the lack of aircrew or aircraft is just plain bad management/planning by the airline itself.

  33. After 2 1/2 hours on hold I feel fortunate that I did get through yesterday morning (12/24) to reschedule my canceled flight from MKE to PHX to 3 days later (12/27 was the earliest)- btw weather was cold but clear here and all the way to PHX so it was not a weather issue.
    I agree that the system needs to be fixed so I could change my flight on the computer. Only gave me the option to change flight from my current airport when there are several other options in my area – O’Hare and Midway are only two hours drives – so I was forced to make the change with an agent. I must say the agent I did get was VERY helpful and accommodating.


  35. You all are suprised in what way? Massive winter storm and you expected all to go smooth. And then there is Tom from Seattle whose below comment is the epitome of liberal dribble drabble. So God damn stupid that he doesn’t realize everyone is laughing at him. Tom inhope you have a cardiac event very shortly. The stats are on your side dumbass. Tom K from Seattle says:
    December 24, 2022 at 6:03 pm
    Fundamental challenge for the entire West and increasingly the US of A…not enough people to work.

    We’re living longer than ever (other than the brain-dead Trump anti-vax lunatics) and hence will demand services for an increasing period of time.

    Yet birth rates continue to fall and we don’t have a functioning immigration system to provide for our labor shortage.

    This inevitably will mean higher inflation due to wage pressure and poorer service.

  36. Southwest isn’t alone in their uber crappy service. Delta canceled our flights a day in advance and never notified us. Gave up trying to call…4 hours on hold. Their “text system” crashed. Drove to the airport to try and find a human to talk to. Waited in line at ticket counter for an hour only to be told by delta rep that they couldn’t rebook our tix thru him, only can be done online (doesn’t work) or phone (no answer) but he could SELL us replacement tix for $1,200 (one way..Orlando to SLC).

  37. It blows my mind that people make extensive travel plans during the winter. Yeah, it’s the holiday season, but it’s also the worst time to travel (in North America). That anyone can expect it won’t be a gamble is ridiculous.
    Friends and family are available year round – visit in May, or August.
    Play dumb games, win dumb prizes.

  38. To add insult to injury, the captain on our 2-hour delayed Southwest flight says we are waiting for our repair to be logged in their new system”which is much slower than the old system”. WTF???

  39. What this piece doesn’t cover are the thousands of people who are working for all airlines on Christmas. Thousands who are working hard to try to handle the insanity of holiday travel. The weather is dangerously bad. People generally are out of their minds. And yet there are those who are trying their best to show up and do their jobs and get people where they need to go. And they get yelled and screamed at and treated rudely. Try doing their job sometime.

  40. @KCOC, the fact that a bigot like you no longer works for WN makes me more likely to fly them, in spite of their current operational issues.

  41. @JOJO – you are missing the point. Flights get cancelled, we all get that. But having a customer call center that melts down during a crisis, we don’t get.

    Having a website that responds to any change with an error and a message to call the non-functioning call center, we don’t get.

    Having just 3 customer service staff at DCA with lines of cancelled passengers running several hundred feet looping through and back the doors, we don’t get.

    Standing for 3 hours to talk to one of the 3 customer service staff – while also trying to reach the call center 27 times – and then being told that the next available flight to my destination is in 4 days (which would be six days past the “bomb cyclone storm”), I don’t get.

    Storms are not new, how Southwest reacts to them should be a well-oiled playbook by now. But no, they’ve cut themselves so thin that one thing goes wrong and everything falls down.

    Heck, at a minimum I thought I would wake up this morning to an email from the CEO saying they’re sorry, they’re working on fixing things. But he was too busy fixing another plate of Christmas lunch to give a damn.

  42. Southwest customer service has gotten worse and worse. You used to be able to speak to a customer relations person 6 days a week. They would look at your issues and offer immediate compensation LUV vouchers, refunds, etc… Last year Southwest decided to get rid of live customer relations agents.

    Now you can only send an email and be prepared to wait up to 10 days for a response. It’s stuff like this that just irks me to no end. These airlines make record profits and continually raise prices but make it harder and harder for us customers to speak or interact with them. But imo Southwest has gone way way downhill. Even comparing them to how they were 5 years ago It’s night and day how much worse they have gotten. Try tweeting them with a concern lol – they take almost 15-24 hours to reply. Total joke.

  43. Saw a lot of comments about no compensation or hotel offered.

    For domestic flights it’s often cheap to buy travel insurance during checkout, under $20. Maybe you don’t want to spend it for every flight at least consider it for the very heaviest travel weeks. I’m sure Gary will talk about cards offering built in travel insurance but you can still get protection without it.

  44. The website portal won’t allow me to cancel our itinerary due to a companion pass error SW made. Do I have to keep waiting on hold to cancel our flights tomorrow? What happens if I don’t wait on hold? Over 2 hours in so far waiting for an agent. Happy Christmas.

  45. Has anyone gotten their rerouted luggage? I was on a flight from Austin to Chicago ohare on Thursday morning that got cancelled before the storms even hit Chicago area. . We were able to finally get into Chicago midway thursday night just before midnight. It is now Christmas night and we still don’t have our luggage and presents. We were called Friday night and they said our luggage would leave Dallas on the first flight Saturday. We went to O’Hara at the appointed time and it did not arrive. It was sad to not have my gifts and stocking stuffers for my kids and husband, not to mention the $200 we spent at Costco on socks and another set of clothes and pajamas!

  46. This is the United States.

    Nobody is paid enough to care or be empathetic. The ones who step up and DO care are met with retaliation. And, my oh my the power of unions. They’re great but they stab themselves when they use moments like these to maximize pay and cause even more disruption. “Sure, lets taxi slow so we ‘time out’ and ruin the next 3 flights downline” (Right, that NEVER happens right union guys?) “Sure, lets call out sick” (Right, EVERYONE is sick on Christmas). And for all the super pro union bosses.. before you break my ankles, look yourself in the mirror and tell me that doesn’t happen at your organization. LOL.

    But like I said. This is the United States. We don’t have the culture of giving a crap. And the ones who do, are overpowered by the ones who don’t…. Because… money.

    Lady up there talking about her mom with dementia. You think the immigrant wearing a hijab or college kid living at home, or old grandpa who messed up his retirement pushing her wheelchair gets paid $500 an hour? Or do you think they get paid so little that when they get berated by people around them, they reach the breaking point and give up? They don’t care about your existence because you don’t care about their humanity.

    Now, let’s sing God Bless America. The land of the I the Person and laugh at WE THE PEOPLE!

  47. For those hurling insults at those who are complaining about SWA, the issue was primarily poor management, not the weather. The SWA workers I encountered yesterday were great. The problem is with the C Suite. Heads need to roll at the top.

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