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Sen. Markey blasts Southwest for cancellations, calls for customer compensation

"Southwest Airlines is failing consumers during the most important travel week of the year."

Travelers wait in slow-moving lines to speak with Southwest Airlines customer service representatives at Los Angeles International Airport on Dec. 27, 2022. Kyle Grillot/The New York Times

Amid an onslaught of flight cancellations and delays, Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut are calling on Southwest Airlines to “fairly compensate” customers who had their holiday season travel plans disrupted. 

While many airlines were disrupted last weekend by a punishing storm, Southwest has been thrown into even more chaos by a multitude of factors, including COVID-related staffing shortages and an outdated computer system, NPR reported. 

Southwest was responsible for more than half of all flight cancellations Tuesday, canceling more than 2,600 flights as of about 6 p.m., according to flight tracking service Flight Aware. There were just under 5,000 total cancellations reported by the site on Tuesday evening. 


The problems at Southwest are impacting those coming into or flying out of Boston. A total of 53 flights coming into or departing Logan Airport were canceled Tuesday as of about 6 p.m., according to Flight Aware. Of those cancellations, 30 were Southwest flights. 

“Southwest Airlines is failing consumers during the most important travel week of the year. Instead of a holiday spent celebrating with family and friends, passengers are sleeping in airports or desperately trying to reach customer service agents,” Markey and Blumenthal said in a statement

The senators are calling on Southwest to compensate passengers whose flights were canceled. Markey and Blumenthal said Southwest should not only compensate customers for rebooked tickets, ticket refunds, and hotel, meal, and transportation reimbursement, but also include “significant monetary compensation for the disruption to their holiday plans.”

The senators further argued that the cancellations should be categorized as “controllable,” since they were largely due to the failure of Southwest’s own internal systems. 

“We were fully staffed and prepared for the approaching holiday weekend when the severe weather swept across the continent,” Southwest said in a statement Tuesday. “These operational conditions forced daily changes of an unprecedented volume and magnitude to our flight schedule and the tools our teams use to recover the airline remain at capacity.”


A major issue plaguing the airline is an outdated crew scheduling system, NPR reported. This system was reportedly pushed to its limits by Southwest’s strategy of relying on short, point-to-point flights. Most other major airlines used a “hub and spoke” model, which filters flights through major cities like Atlanta or Chicago. 

When severe weather mixed with this system, NPR reported, pilots and flight attendants were no longer able to get to the airports that they needed to be at for further flights. 

On top of that, Southwest’s existing policy dictated that it not exchange tickets with other airlines, The New York Times reported. Therefore, Southwest reportedly has not been able to rebook passengers on other airlines. 

Markey and Blumenthal argued that Southwest has the capacity to adequately compensate its customers. 

“Southwest is planning to issue a $428 million dividend next year – the company can afford to do right by the consumers it has harmed. Southwest should focus first on its customers stranded at airports and stuck on interminable hold,” they said in a statement. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation is also concerned with Southwest’s operations. The agency said Monday that the rash of cancellations and delays was “unacceptable,” as were reports of lackluster customer service. Officials will now examine whether the cancellations were controllable, and investigate whether or not Southwest was complying with its customer service plan. 


On Tuesday afternoon, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg met with Southwest union leaders and its CEO to “convey the Department’s expectation that Southwest meet its obligations to passengers and workers and take steps to prevent a situation like this from happening again,” the agency said on Twitter. 


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