Southwest is canceling 70% of its flights as travelers try to get home

On the busy travel day after Christmas, Southwest Airlines canceled more than 2,700 flights, frustrating passengers across the country.

In total, about 3,900 flights within, into or out of the United States were canceled on Monday, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.

Southwest had 2,893 flights canceled at one point Monday, or 70 percent of its schedule, according to its website. Delta had around 300, and United around 130.

“Our heartfelt apologies for this have only just begun,” Southwest said in a statement Monday.

It blamed “operational challenges” that followed days of severe winter weather across most of the country.

Bags piled up at Denver International Airport and Chicago’s Midway Airport, video showed.

“I’m mad as hell, because I see bad management,” Ihore Konrad told NBC Chicago. He had been stranded at the airport for two days due to cancellations, according to the station.

A Southwest spokesperson did not have an exact number of flights that had been canceled because things kept changing, but said “it’s a significant portion of our published flight schedule.”

Southwest CEO Bob Jordan told The Wall Street Journal that the company plans to operate a third of its typical schedule Tuesday and Wednesday to give employees a chance to recover.

– We had a tough day today. In all likelihood we will have another tough day tomorrow as we work our way out of this, Jordan told the newspaper.

Passengers and others took to social media to post photos of bags piling up at airports. Southwest said it was inundated with calls and messages and asked for patience.

Much of the continental United States, which at one point covered over 200 million people, was under a winter weather advisory or warning into the holiday weekend, with bitterly cold temperatures and ice.

On Saturday, Sunday and Monday combined, more than 8,200 flights to, out of, or within the United States were canceled, according to FlightAware.

The problem with Southwest flights also caught the attention of the US Department of Transportation, which called the airline’s performance unacceptable.

“USDOT is concerned about Southwest Airlines’ disproportionate and unacceptable frequency of cancellations and delays, as well as the lack of support for customers who experience a cancellation or delay,” a department spokesperson said in a statement.

“As more information becomes available, the department will carefully investigate whether cancellations were controllable and whether Southwest is complying with its customer service plan as well as all other relevant DOT regulations,” the department statement said.

Southwest said it was staffed ahead of the holiday, but that the severe weather greatly affected plans.

“These operational conditions forced daily changes to our flight schedule at a volume and size that still has the tools our teams are using to restore the airline operating at capacity,” the airline said.

The day after Christmas is usually one of the busiest days of the year — although the Transportation Security Administration said last week that it expected Dec. 22 and 30 to be the busiest this year.

On Friday, more than 2 million passengers passed through TSA checkpoints and on Sunday, the number was 1.7 million, according to the TSA website. Figures for Monday had not yet been posted online.

At Raleigh-Durham International Airport, what was supposed to be a plane instead of long trips turned into a road trip — after Southwest flights were canceled, passengers were given the choice to travel by bus, NBC affiliate WRAL in Raleigh reported.

“There’s nothing I can do but get on this bus to get home,” passenger Eric Ford told the station.

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