LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Southwest Airlines has canceled more than 2,500 flights nationwide Wednesday as it grapples with a holiday travel boondoggle that U.S. Transportation Secretary Peter Buttigieg called a complete meltdown by the airline.
Southwest Airlines is not the only air carrier facing problems with staying on schedule and providing passengers with flights in and out of Southern California airports. But of the 2,714 flights canceled nationwide for Wednesday as of 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, 2,504 of them were Southwest flights, according to the flight tracking website FlightAware. The website showed another 2,356 flights were canceled for Thursday.
Thousands of Southwest Airlines passengers were stranded Tuesday across Southern California as the airline's winter woes worsened, leading to canceled and delayed flights throughout the nation that are expected to continue through the week.
As of Tuesday evening, the airline had canceled nearly 2,700 flights nationally, including many from Los Angeles International Airport and other airfields across Southern California, according to FlightAware.
At LAX, a total of 62 departing flights from all airlines had been canceled as of Tuesday evening, with 148 others delayed. It was unclear how many of those were Southwest flights.
Stranded passengers were left with few alternatives, with the Southwest Airlines' website listing all flights departing from Southern California airports as "unavailable" through Saturday.
Some flights still departed from LAX, John Wayne Airport, Hollywood Burbank Airport and Long Beach Airport, but passengers were being urged to check flight schedules.
As of Tuesday evening, 52 departing flights had been canceled at John Wayne Airport -- including airlines other than Southwest -- as were 43 flights from Burbank and 32 from Long Beach.
The airline issued an apology to stranded holiday travelers, stating that its operational challenges stem from last week's historic winter storm.
"With consecutive days of extreme winter weather across our network behind us, continuing challenges are impacting our customers and employees in a significant way that is unacceptable," according to a Southwest statement. "We're working with safety at the forefront to urgently address wide-scale disruption by rebalancing the airline and repositioning crews and our fleet ultimately to best serve all who plan to travel with us."
The airline added, "And our heartfelt apologies for this are just beginning."
Airline officials said Southwest was flying roughly one-third of its normally scheduled flights. In a video posted online Tuesday afternoon, Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan said that cadence would continue through the week as it works to reposition its crews and airplanes.
"We're doing everything we can to return to a normal operation," he said.
"... We always take care of our customers and we will lean in and go above and beyond as they would expect us to," he said. "... Our plan for the next few days is to fly a reduced schedule and reposition our people and planes, and we're making headway and we're optimistic of being back on track before next week. We have some real work to do in making this right."
Although the airline has continued to blame winter weather for the problems, some industry watchers have suggested that aging scheduling software played a major role in the delays.
Jordan again blamed the "bitter cold" for the problems, but also acknowledged that the airline needs to make improvements in its scheduling systems "so that we never again face what's happening right now."
Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley told City News Service that officials were concerned Monday evening that some passengers would have to remain overnight in the terminal, although John Wayne Airport spokeswoman AnnaSophia Servin said no one had to camp out at the airport overnight.
"All of us on the board are very concerned at the high number of flights canceled," Foley said. "And all of the complaints we're getting. We think Southwest needs to step it up a notch as it relates to travel in California or western state travel."
Foley said she understands how the winter storms can lead to cancellations, but she said the airline should have better contingency plans, especially when it comes to flights here.
"This is California. We're not experiencing dire weather conditions here," she said.
On Monday, Southwest canceled more than 2,900 flights across the country, or about 70% of its scheduled total, according to FlightAware. By 6 a.m. Tuesday, Southwest canceled more than 2,500 more flights, which accounted for at least 60% of its schedule.
Officials with the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a statement calling the Southwest situation "unacceptable."
"USDOT is concerned by Southwest's unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays and reports of lack of prompt customer service," the department stated. "The department will examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan."
Jordan said in his video that he has reached out to Buttigieg to discuss the steps the airline has taken to rectify the issues.
Southwest Airlines said it was fully staffed late last week and prepared for the approaching Christmas weekend when severe weather swept across the continent.
"On the other side of this, we'll work to make things right for those we've let down, including our employees," the airline stated.
Impacted travelers can find more information a southwest.com/traveldisruption.