Beleaguered Southwest eyes Friday return to normal schedules

At least 90 Southwest flights at Hartsfield-Jackson were canceled Thursday
Travelers flying with Southwest print tags for their checked bags on Wednesday, December 28, 2022, at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta.  Southwest airlines canceled over 2,000 flights. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Travelers flying with Southwest print tags for their checked bags on Wednesday, December 28, 2022, at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. Southwest airlines canceled over 2,000 flights. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout the day with latest developments.

The widespread operations meltdown at Southwest Airlines continued to impact the plans of holiday travelers in Atlanta and across the country Thursday, but the airline said the turbulence is almost over.

The Dallas-based carrier has canceled some 13,000 flights since Monday and operated roughly a third of its schedule this week in hopes of restoring normal operations. Southwest said it expects to return to something closer to its usual operations Friday with “minimal disruptions.”

“We are encouraged by the progress we’ve made to realign crew, their schedules, and our fleet,” Southwest said in a statement. “With another holiday weekend full of important connections for our valued customers and employees, we are eager to return to a state of normalcy.”

What started as disruptions caused by an Arctic blast across much of the U.S. turned into an epic debacle, stranding hundreds of thousands of passengers. Planes and flight crews were out of position and baggage has piled up at airports across the country. The calamity earned Southwest the ire of lawmakers, consumer watchdogs and disgruntled passengers.

Southwest scrubbed nearly 2,400 flights nationwide as of 1 p.m. Thursday, roughly 58% of its schedule, according to

Some 90 Southwest flights were canceled as of early Thursday afternoon at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, according to FlightAware. The cancelations were roughly split between scheduled departures and arrivals, jostling the travel plans of New Year’s Eve revelers and college football fans coming to Atlanta for Saturday’s Peach Bowl.

Most airlines — such as Atlanta-based Delta, Hartsfield-Jackson’s top carrier — have recovered from the winter storm, and a Hartsfield-Jackson spokesman said water pressure issues that impacted restrooms and concessionaires have been resolved.

Clearer skies may be ahead, since FlightAware reported a few dozen Southwest cancellations for Friday.

But the holiday snafu will linger in many travelers’ minds, said Port Washington, N.Y.-based airline consultant Bob Mann. He said this is a wake up call for Southwest and its competitors to prepare their online systems and flight staff reserves ahead of unpredictable weather.

“They (Southwest) were kind of running borrowed time with that system,” Mann said. “Well, here we are. Borrowed time has come.”


Lawmakers have demanded the airline compensate customers for travel disruptions.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Thursday called Southwest’s performance “unacceptable,” saying a tweet his agency will investigate and enforce customer service standards.

Delta has instituted fare caps through Jan. 2 in its markets that overlap with Southwest, for passengers whose Southwest flights were canceled and need to book an alternate flight. The company declined to comment further on its competitor’s situation.

On Wednesday, Southwest opened a portal for passengers to request a refund, and additional resources were added Thursday to assist stranded travelers and those missing their luggage.

Mann said Southwest’s crew assignment system and information technology setup is leaps behind competitors, leading to the wave of cancellations and short-staffed flight crews.

“It’s the ability to be resilient and the ability to be agile,” he said. “Other carriers have more robust systems.”

He estimated that more than a million customers were likely affected by scrubbed flights, which could cost the airline hundreds of millions of dollars in refunds and flight vouchers.

‘Just wasn’t enough’

Ryan Green, Southwest’s chief commercial officer, appeared on video late Wednesday to apologize to customers, and vowed to make things right.

“You know by now all the flexibility and planning that we put in place to deal with the storm just wasn’t enough,” he said.

He said all customers scheduled to travel through Jan. 2 will be able to adjust their flight plans online without paying additional charges. More information is available at

In addition, anyone whose flight was canceled between Dec. 24 and Jan. 2 can request a refund on unused tickets. Customers can also request refunds for other travel expenses stemming from a disrupted flight, such as meal, hotel or other transportation costs. Southwest also encourages travelers who are missing their luggage to fill out a baggage report, which is located on the same web page.

Mann said the next 24 hours will be crucial in determining if Southwest’s apologies translate to renewed reliability for travelers.

“The time for messaging is over,” he said. “The videos are apologetic but that doesn’t solve the problem. They need to get out on the business of refunding credit cards and generating vouchers for people who have other out of pocket costs that are legitimate and should be covered.”

Resources for travel disruptions

Southwest Airlines said affected customers should visit to adjust flight plans without paying additional charges or to request refunds for unused flight tickets. Customers can also upload receipts for other travel expenses stemming from a canceled flight, such as meals, hotels and ancillary travel costs. The web page also allows customers to file a missing baggage report.