Arizona politicians call out Southwest over ongoing wave of canceled flights

Dec 28, 2022, 9:13 AM | Updated: 11:21 am

(KTAR News Photos/Jim Cross)...

(KTAR News Photos/Jim Cross)

(KTAR News Photos/Jim Cross)

PHOENIX — Arizona politicians are turning up the heat on Southwest Airlines over the carrier’s ongoing wave of flight cancellations.

U.S. Reps. Greg Stanton and Ruben Gallego are calling for answers from the carrier, which on Wednesday canceled another 2,500-plus flights nationwide, including hundreds in Phoenix and other cities that haven’t been impacted directly by winter weather.

“Twice now over just 14 months, Southwest’s negligence has forced it to cancel an extraordinary number of flights and leave tens of thousands of passengers stranded without answers,” Stanton said in a press release Tuesday.

“It’s apparent failure to adequately prepare for or respond to foreseeable circumstances has created a paralyzing system-wide collapse.”

Stanton is the only Arizona representative on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He’s also on the Aviation Subcommittee.

“Southwest’s leadership, including CEO Robert Jordan, must explain to the American people and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee why it has failed to invest in its IT infrastructure, adequately staff airline operations, or to learn hard lessons from past challenges,” Stanton said.

Gallego sent Jordan a letter Tuesday asking about how Southwest will compensate travelers who’ve been forced to cover extra expenses, including overnight lodging, because their flights were canceled.

“We are now multiple days removed from the winter storm that your company continues to blame for canceled flights to Phoenix from cities like Tampa, Houston, San Diego and El Paso,” Gallego wrote.

“Stranded constituents are telling my office that they cannot get any answers.”

Southwest apparently was undone by a combination of factors including an antiquated crew-scheduling system and a network design that allows cancellations in one region to cascade throughout the country rapidly. Those weaknesses are not new — they helped cause a similar failure by Southwest in October 2021.

In a video the Dallas-based airline posted late Tuesday, Jordan said Southwest would operate a reduced schedule for several days but hoped to be “back on track before next week.”

Jordan blamed the winter storm for snarling the airline’s “highly complex” network. He said Southwest’s tools for recovering from disruptions work “99% of the time, but clearly we need to double down” on upgrading systems to avoid a repeat of this week.

By Wednesday morning, more than 180 of Southwest’s scheduled flights for the day into or out of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport had been canceled, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware. More than 166 of the carrier’s Phoenix flights scheduled for Thursday were already off the board, too.

Southwest canceled more than 450 flights into or out of Phoenix on Monday and Tuesday combined. Multiple Southwest service kiosks were down at Sky Harbor this week and luggage from canceled flights or that arrived without its owners was piled up at the baggage claim area.

Stanton and Gallego aren’t the only public officials who want answers.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has criticized airlines for previous disruptions, said his agency would examine the causes of Southwest’s widespread cancellations and whether the airline was meeting its legal obligations to stranded customers.

“Because what we’re seeing right now, from the system and the flights themselves to the inability to reach anybody on a customer service phone line, it is just completely unacceptable,” Buttigieg told CBS early Wednesday.

The Senate Commerce Committee also promised an investigation. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is on that panel.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Jim Cross and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Arizona politicians call out Southwest over ongoing wave of canceled flights