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. My Southwest Airlines connecting flight to Denver was canceled with no previous announcement to us so I’ve been stuck in Las Vegas for the past 4 hours and standing in line to talk to an agent for that entire time. Neither Burbank, Las Vegas or Denver has any adverse weather conditions that would hinder flights coming in. WHAT IS GOING ON?!?! I heard rumors that over 100 people walked out… Is that true?

  2. In addition to Southwest’s ongoing operational problems, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that an internal survey of FAA inspectors shows that 3/4 of those inspectors do not believe there have been improvements in the culture of the FAA’s oversight of Southwest which was deemed to be unsatisfactorily lax from findings by the DOT’s inspector general that were found before covid. The FAA fired three senior officials in the Dallas office that oversees Southwest but a retiring FAA inspector cited the survey in an email that he sent to a senior FAA official in Washington DC and circulated the email and survey throughout the FAA. Several FAA inspectors said that senior leadership in the FAA’s Dallas office does not listen to inspectors that raise concerns and are more focused on pleasing the airline.

  3. @ Melissa please respond me if you find a lawyer. Over 7 hours on hold and nada. Waste of a Christmas.

  4. My Southwest flight on 12/22 was canceled due to weather. I get that. But my 12/25 flight was delayed… and delayed… until 9 hours later the app informed customers the flight was cancelled.

    Just before this, Southwest staff disappeared so that we couldn’t ask questions. I felt sorry for the two agents swarmed by hundreds of upset customers. A number of elderly passengers in wheelchairs were trying to get staff support to no avail. Families were crying.

    Next time, just cancel the flights instead of stringing thousands of people along. CEO Bob Jordan should resign. I will NEVER fly Southwest again.

  5. Our connection was canceled enroute to Denver…lots of people in lines and agents are walking out. Can’t get SWA on the phone, can’t change flight on the website, no help from SWA…we need help! I can’t afford hotel room or expensive food??? Help

  6. My mother and I are in town for an emergency funeral, the postal worker Aundre Cross in Milwaukee who was killed. We flew in from DAL on 12/21, and we scheduled to fly out 12/24. Our flight began getting delayed early that morning, and even went back up an hour for the leave time. We would be charged $60 to keep our car until 6pm that day so we chose to return it and uber to the airport. while heading there the flight was cancelled, we could not pick another flight online due to error messages, so we went to the counter. The agent moved slow while we watched other people in line behind us get flights only for us to get a flight on Wednesday, which was going to be a major inconvenience as I am some ones designated driver for their emergency surgery scheduled Tuesday 12/26 at 8am in Texas. My mothers dog is in the kennel and he is scheduled to be out today, which will cost her more money if they can keep him, and we both have to be back for work. I cannot miss any days as they would be without pay. We waited 3 hours on hold with Southwest and got a rude agent whole got us a flight for this morning 12/26 at 5am, make arrangements for that, get up at 1am FLIGHT CANCELED, all while prices are shooting up from $400- 4500 just for one way. Southwest has been no help, just leaving you to solve the problem. when i asked about meal, travel, ticket expenses or refunds the agent in the airport told me they do not offer anything for inclement weather after telling us that our flight was canceled because there was no crew to fly our plane. There is no bad weather anymore, but that is the excuses the airline keeps using. We are all fighting to get home, and we did not travel for leisure, we do not travel during the holidays for this reason, but as I stated our friend and brother was murdered and we wanted to honor him by being there, as he would have for us.

  7. Seriously y’all? You act like you don’t know that holiday travel is STUPID BUSY to begin with and like y’all didn’t know a big storm was coming! The news has been talking about the winter storm bomb for days! And it’s been RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FREAKING COUNTRY! Planes fly back and forth through the middle of the country all the time. If there’s a weather issue on the East Coast, it can cause disruptions for the West Coast. Take some responsibility for yourselves. Travel requires planning, planning means checking what the weather will be like during your travel, and packing appropriately. What part of that is not common sense??? And to the woman who left her 70 yr old mother with dementia to fly alone on Christmas, SHAME ON YOU! Who does that??? How disgusting that you would put your own mother in harm’s way like that??? You KNOW she’s not up to traveling alone and you left her at the airport on Christmas??? You’re either stupid or just incredibly selfish. NEXT TIME YOU FLY WITH YOUR MOTHER!!!

  8. All southwest flights flying into Houston are cancelled today. No explanation! The next available flights are 4 DAYS LATER! Get your shit together Southwest!

  9. Mama Cook – The Southwest cancellations are NOT due to weather! It’s operational. They have no pilots and personnel. There are no adverse weather conditions in the SW part of the country where this planes have regularly scheduled routes. You sound like some underpaid, misinformed, disgruntled Southwest worker.

  10. Dallas to Burbank on Christmas day… what a nightmare a 5 hour flight turned in to a 16 hour cross country maratón trying to make it home to be with my kids for Christmas. Southwest what a disappointment, stated while waiting in line to board, I was kick out by the system out of the plane rebooked in another flight and my place given to other standby customer and that is is how my nightmare started, well, I made it home with my kids that’s what counts. No luggage, no answers.
    So Mr Southwest CEO, what happened? So unfair what we had to go thru not only the customers but your employees too.

  11. SWA VP Chris Johnson threatened ramp workers if they called in sick, said they would require a Dr’s note, and that tele-health visits would NOT be accepted. Influenza and COVID are rampant, temperatures were very cold, and people DO get sick over the holidays sometimes. Perhaps an incentive (doubvle or triple pay) would have solved staffing issues…but his threats backfired and many workers just said “F SWA” and quit. That is what happens when management treats employees as the enemy instead of appreciating them, PAYING them and realizing the airline is inoperative without them. SWA is getting what they deserve. The travelling public nees to avoid SWA until they get their act together and treat their employees with respect and pay them INDUSTRY LEADING compensation.

  12. To all who say we should expect this due to the weather obviously has not been impacted by SW’s delay and cancellation tactic. We were supposed to fly from MDW – PHL on Christmas Day. All SW flights were delayed until cancelled. However all flights from United and American made it from O’Hare. So weather was not the issue.
    We didn’t have a full crew and the gate agent could not get through to the SW scheduling center. We had flight attendants offering to work the flight but couldn’t because of not being able to contact the scheduling center. By the time FAs were assigned the pilots available time expired and couldn’t fly.
    This cause of this is nothing short of negligent and incompetent management.

  13. We had flights delayed and cancelled over and over. I understand there was a storm and that impacted flight for a couple days. However, a couple days afterwards other airlines were beginning to resolve the issues. Not Southwest. Most of the agents at the counters were working alone and that created long lines and wait times. Then when we did get to the next airport the luggage wasn’t there and again there was one person at the counter to assist with lost luggage. Some people waited in lines for over four hours after waiting at the airport all day for several days trying to get home on delayed flights that were cancelled after an all day wait at the airport. Southwest made no attempt to try and provide lodging or transportation to and ruin hotels for customers. They should have to refund every ticket that was cancelled. When other airlines have fixed the issue and Southwest has not that only means there are internal issues with Southwest. They blame it all on the weather so they don’t have to compensate people for their issues. I do not plan to fly Southwest again. I hope they feel the financial strain in the near future for how they handles all this. They should be held accountable and required to refund tickets fully.

  14. My brother was supposed to fly out of Oakland on the 24th in the evening to Washington state…flight cancelled and at that point anywhere in the state would have worked, but all flights that direction were cancelled, after first being delayed. It’s no the pilots or staff’s fault. It’s the overlords at HQ with outdated scheduling software and overreliance on central command. There has to be a better way of making crew scheduling work better….time to hold upper management responsible for these meltdowns, of which we have seen way too many this year.

  15. The line at the Southwest gate counter in ELP is around the block. There were 0 gate agents for a long time, then 1,and now 2. Regardless, I think a total of 4 people have been helped in the last hour. I think half the people just want to know how to get their bags and leave the airport. There looks to be a single southwest plane here. American is rocking and rolling though.

  16. Southwest flight 617 from Nashville to Orange County cancelled on 12/26. Southwest is refusing to allow anyone to get bags from the flight and have said that all bags will go to CA regardless of whether passengers can be rebooked there or not. How can they do that?

  17. WN and B6 used to be fantastic airlines. Lately, they have been more expensive and having more issues than the legacy Big 3.

    I still love B6 but I’m done with the WN cattle call unless they have some deal that is an absolute steal.

  18. My flights were cancelled 3 times. Once on the 24th with a 2 hour notice, 2 flights on the 26th; I had a flight on the 25th at 10:30am and it was canceled at approximately 4 PM, reason given, we have no pilot. The pilot timed out. They rescheduled me for another flight that same evening. After standing in the two hour line to get this new flight, it was also canceled, noting that the pilots time ran out and we are not top priority to find a pilot. They said I would not be able to return home until the December 30th. I stood in line again for another two hours to request a refund after finding a flight on another airline.
    Question is, why not have a back up? Just in case a pilot gets sick or in case something like this happens. One flight wasn’t able to leave because they didn’t have a second flight attendant..

    I’m not home yet, but hoping. The phone lines wouldn’t work and most of the time it we were disconnected. It was a mess…and it still is today. I tried to log on to see if there were any available flights and it was under maintenance. Piss poor planning. The three employees at the desk remained polite and patient through all of this.

  19. I should’ve learned after the Oct 2021 shit show I went through. Their operations continue to be inept.

  20. Daughter has been at DMW from 12/24 morning. All flights cancelled. She was only 1/2 way through her journey. Waited in 3 lines for over 12 hours. No hotels with room. No money for food. As of now she has been there for over58 hours. SWA says maybe 12/28 or 12/29 they can get her on another flight? WTF. People can’t just live at the airport without clothes meds or food! Her bags were sent ahead only because we went and looked for them. – they were in a sea of thousands of bags. Anyone and others were just taking bags from the airport.

    This is going to be a class action lawsuit.

    71% flights cancelled but not helping passengers- not rebooking. Not with accommodations. Not getting them on other carriers. ABSOLUTELY WRONG!!!!!!!!

  21. My friends flew from England to Austin, then supposed to go to San Diego. Failed, 5 times!!! They waited 5 days and still can’t get out to San Diego. We are supposed to fly to Denver and it cancelled. I waited on the phone for two hours, then it disconnected. Went to the airport TWICE the line was 8 hours to the counter!!! Left, renting a car then driving to Texas, then Colorado. WORST customer service ever! What happened????

  22. Exactly! My friends were cancelled three times, on hold for two hours then disconnected.the website was down, no char available and endless hours at the ticket counter to hear “so sorry, there are no flights available, check back.” Finally, rented a car and driving through five states to get back from their great vacation in the airport! Unacceptable and sad for all the passengers who haven’t seen their families.

  23. Southwest is here because the bad weather exposed their fragile system that was specifically built to maximize profit at your expense and the employees’ loyalty to a once great company that people loved to work for, and that you relied upon. The higher ups took the easy road which was to trick
    the system, and abuse employee loyalty. The board should clean house first, and ask for forgiveness afterwards. Anything short of that is the middle finger to you, me, and the employees..
    Herb Kelleher is rolling in his grave!!

  24. My flight was supposed to depart Sacramento December 28 at 5 am to Phoenix. I received a text sometime in the middle of the night December 27 that my flight was cancelled. Sacramento and Phoenix are on the West, we have nothing to do with the storms back east. Yeah there is a rainstorm, but if they can fly through a little rain, they should be allowed to fly. The text I got says I can change or cancel my flight. Then I looked at their website and everything is cancelled, there is nothing to change to, unless I can change my airline with such short notice. And it’s a domino effect, I have to cancel my motel accommodations, the four day seminar/convention tickets, my rental car, my airport shuttle, etc. etc. I understand there are hundreds of thousands in the same situation with Southwest. Shameful! They used to be so dependable. They must have gone woke, there is a saying, go woke, go broke. Otherwise, I have no idea what suddenly made them so worthless. Perhaps it could be woke indolent employees, playing video games or TikTok. You need to be like Musk and lay down good pay with strict employee policies. If the pay is right, I’ll put in long, hard hours.

    Christmas day was ruined by Southwest. It is ok and understandable flight disruptions occur. But my poor niece….we wasted almost 12 hours on Christmas day. Went to airport flight got cancelled. …..agents couldn’t even rebook because of software problems. Left airport and tried again to call on hold for 6 hours call got disconnected. Went to bed woke up next morning called again held for 3 hours drove back to airport agents still couldn’t rebook flight……issues with system. My niece was going on a ski trip lost over $1000 in prepaid expenses and Southwest was NO HELP. IS THIS A USA Airline or a 3rd world country airline. I have flown for 40 years and have NEVER witnessed such a mess. They need to compensate all passengers that got no help
    Really Really BAD!!!

  26. Derek, nope, not a SW employee, and I never said that’s why things were cancelled, I merely pointed out that holiday travel sucks in general and that everyone knew bad weather was coming. I travel a lot for work and have learned the value of packing efficiently with a carry on because I’ve been delayed for days before. If I can avoid traveling the week of Christmas or the week of the New Year, you bet your sweet bippy I do! I check the weather and try to set my flights before expected crappy weather starts. It takes a little extra time, but it saves me trouble and stress when flying. I also have a credit card with $1K specifically for travel emergencies in case I have to get a hotel, a rental car, or another method of travel. My plan isn’t foolproof, but it helped me avoid the insanity happening for thousands of other passengers right now. I got all of my work travel done before December 20th this year so I would avoid the headaches associated with Christmas travel. And I didn’t travel to visit family because I heard the news when they said “bomb cyclone”.

    Oh, and I still think the woman that left her mother with dementia at the airport to fly alone was AWFUL!

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