Southwest cancellations continue as rival carriers cap fares to help stranded flyers


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Southwest Airlines slashed another 2,500 flights on Wednesday, sending more frustrated customers scrambling to find seats on other airlines.

The Dallas-based carrier’s cuts amounted to 60% of its schedule and nearly 90% of overall cancellations in the U.S. on Wednesday, marking another day of disruptions even as weather conditions and operations at other airlines improved.

Close to 60% of Southwest flights were already canceled for Thursday. It scrubbed less than 1% of the schedule for Friday, but the carrier still has to accommodate the thousands of travelers left stranded by its meltdown.

Airlines have canceled thousands of flights since last week when severe winter weather roiled holiday travel around the U.S., but Southwest’s outsized disruptions have drawn scrutiny from the Biden administration and lawmakers. Southwest has blamed its performance on its internal technology platforms that were overloaded by schedule changes.

That forced pilots and flight attendants to reach out to scheduling services by phone for new assignments, hotels and other accommodations. Hold times lasted hours, crews and unions said.

“There are hoards of Teams working on solutions right now and have been for days and days,” Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said in a staff message on Tuesday. “Ultimately, though, this stops with me. I’m accountable for this and I own our issues and I own our recovery. I want you to know that as well.”

To help stranded travelers, Delta Air Lines said Wednesday that it “capped fares in all the markets Southwest operates” and that the fares are valid through Saturday. American Airlines said it did so in “cities severely affected by cancellations” and United Airlines said it has capped fares in “select cities.”

Alaska Airlines said it was lowering fares in certain markets.

The airlines did not provide further details. The moves came after Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg urged other carriers to cap fares.

Southwest said it would reimburse travelers for “reasonable” hotel, meal and alternative transportation expenses if customers submit receipts.

Tens of thousands of passengers were also struggling with luggage lost in the chaos. Southwest allows travelers to check two bags for free, unlike other carriers, which charge for checked luggage.

Southwest shares have tumbled nearly 11% so far this week, twice as much as its rivals.

Frustrations for travelers trying to find their way home were heightened because the scarcity of of spare seats on other airlines during the busy holiday period.

Airlines will routinely limit last-minute fares, which are generally high and often coincide with limited seats, during emergencies like hurricanes so travelers can evacuate.

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