Emotional baggage: Frustration boils over for travelers at RDU as Southwest cancels more flights – WRAL News

On Wednesday, the airline canceled more than 2,500 flights throughout the country, roughly more than 60 percent of all flights the company already scheduled. More than 2,300 flights have been canceled for Thursday.
Exhausted Southwest travelers tried finding seats on other airlines or renting cars to get to their destination, but many remained stranded. The airline’s CEO said it could be next week before the flight schedule returns to normal.
On Wednesday, the airline canceled more than 2,500 flights throughout the country, roughly more than 60 percent of all flights the company already scheduled. More than 2,300 flights have been canceled for Thursday, making for over 10,000 flights canceled in a four-day span.
A traveler in tears told WRAL News that she would miss her mother's 90th birthday.
Another described being stranded for four days.
Those with reservations had to make the tough decision whether to wait it out – sometimes for hours – on the phone or online with customer service or to head to the airport in hopes of speaking to a human.
On Wednesday, Izzy Alston told a WRAL reporter she had to rent a car and drive from Orlando to Raleigh.
"I cried a lot and I didn’t get to see my dad," Alston said. "I'm really lucky that I got a rental car on Christmas morning with all of this going on."
Kimberly Guidry said she was told she could not be re-booked for another week.
Rex Sladek said he was forced to spend an extra day in Texas and missed Christmas with his family. By Tuesday, he was back in Raleigh but his luggage was not.
“There were thousands of people stuck in the airports," he said. "I couldn’t make any flights because they were all full for the next three days. My luggage is stuck someplace else. It's just a whole mess.”
Travelers stymied by canceled flights turned to other airlines or rental cars and found frustration there as well.
Bob McEewen said, "Tickets were $2,200, $2,300 just to get to Atlanta one way. It's just ridiculous."
"It really spiraled out of control," Leff said. "It's no longer just an issue of whether it's about the ability, the airlines staffing, and even knowing where their staff are to be able to recover. Their technology just hasn't been in place to recover from something of this magnitude. It is their fault."
When it comes to passengers being reimbursed for the cancelations, Leff said it's inevitable that many will have to eat some of the cost.
"We also don't know how long it's going to take to get all of the reimbursements processed," Leff said. "Because the sheer volume Southwest is likely stranding a quarter million passengers per day, over the course of a week. So when you get into over a million passengers seeking reimbursement that could be at $1,000 a passenger, there's just going to be a tremendous amount to work through, people are going to have to lay out some cash on their own."
For the first time since the onslaught of cancelations began, Southwest CEO Bob Jordan released a statement. In a video released on Twitter, he explained what went wrong, apologized and described how the airline planned to correct the issues.
"We reached a decision point to significantly reduce our flying to catch up," he said. "We're focused on safely getting all of the pieces back into position to end this rolling struggle."
Their fleet of airplanes and flight crews are scattered in dozens of locations, all of which form a complex network needed in order to manage their flights. They plan to slow down for a few days to try and get everyone back in place and on track. However, it remains to be seen what impact 'significantly reducing flights' will have on the passengers who have already been unable to reach their destinations.
"Our plan for the next few days is to fly a reduced schedule, and reposition our people and planes," he said. "We're optimistic to be back on track before next week."
In the meantime, he says they are processing refunds, as well as reaching out to customers who are dealing with costly detours and reroutes.
On Tuesday night, American Airlines joined the conversation by announcing a plan to "help get people where they need to be" and "putting a cap on fares for select cities."
"The phone system the company uses is just not working," Lyn Montgomery, President of TWU Local 556, told CNN. "They're just not manned with enough manpower in order to give the scheduling changes to flight attendants, and that's created a ripple effect that is creating chaos throughout the nation."
The problems Southwest faces have been brewing for a long time, said Captain Casey Murray, the president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association.
"We've been having these issues for the past 20 months," he told CNN. "We've seen these sorts of meltdowns occur on a much more regular basis and it really just has to do with outdated processes and outdated IT.
"It's phones, it's computers, it's processing power, it's the programs used to connect us to airplanes — that's where the problem lies, and it's systemic throughout the whole airline," he said.
The federal Department of Transportation said it is investigating.
"USDOT is concerned by Southwest's unacceptable rate of cancelations and delays & reports of lack of prompt customer service," the agency tweeted. "The Department will examine whether cancelations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan."
On Monday, Southwest Airlines, trying to get passengers to hubs in Atlanta and Nashville, offered to charter buses for those willing to hit the highway.
Karen Buster, who wanted to get to Nashville on Monday, was already through security when the announcement came.
"She announced if they could get 30 people on the Atlanta and Nashville buses they are good to go within the hour," Buster said.
The charter was set to leave by 5 p.m., for a drive estimated at about eight hours.
"There’s nothing else I can do except sit on this bus to get back home," he said.
Most others in the Southwest line were getting rebooked, some of them on flights that aren't scheduled to leave RDU for days.
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