Southwest Passengers Stranded at Boston Logan as Airline Cancels More Than 60% of Flights

'Our heartfelt apologies for this are just beginning,' the airline said in a statement Monday

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A ferocious winter storm has led to holiday travel nightmares for thousands of travelers across the United States. Some 3,410 domestic and international flights were canceled Monday as of about 3 p.m., according to the tracking site FlightAware.

The site said Southwest Airlines had 2,497 cancellations -- about 60% of its scheduled flights and about 10 times as many as any other major U.S. carrier. Southwest said the weather was improving, which would "stabilize and improve our situation.''



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Based on FlightAware data, airports all across the U.S. were suffering from cancellations and delays, including Boston, Denver, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Seattle, Baltimore and Chicago.

One man at Boston Logan Airport told NBC10 Boston that he was trying to get home to Nashville, Tennessee, but the airline told him there were no flights to his destination for at least three days.

"I mean Southwest, they were super nice, the poor lady, I felt bad for her, she gave us vouchers, $200 each, refunded everything right there," Dave Hill said. "But there's no flights for at least three days back home to Nashville. So we're going to rent a car right now, and just drive four hours tonight, get a hotel, and then drive the rest tomorrow, because they said there were no flights, I've never heard of them saying, like usually they book you on a new flight, like you know, find something for you tomorrow."

"There was no warning, nothing, they've known this for hours...we get in line like literally two minutes before, sorry, cancelled. Like, are you kidding me?" Hill added. "We just turned our rental car in...three days, like three days."

Southwest had been canceling many flights proactively in an effort to stabilize its operation, the carrier's chief operating officer said. The airline apologized to employees for the chaos, which left many struggling to get a hold of crew scheduling services, making it harder to get reassignments or make other changes, or get hotel rooms.

The U.S. Department of Transportation released a statement on Twitter Monday night saying it will look into the situation, calling the rate of canceled flights “disproportionate and unacceptable.”

“USDOT is concerned by Southwest Airlines’ disproportionate and unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays, as well as the failure to properly support customers experiencing a cancellation or delay,” a spokesperson said. “As more information becomes available, the department will closely examine whether cancellations were controllable and whether Southwest is complying with its customer service plan, as well as all other pertinent DOT rules.”

Southwest Airlines released its own statement saying consecutive days of extreme winter weather led to "continuing challenges" that are impacting customers and employees in a "significant way that is unacceptable."

"And our heartfelt apologies for this are just beginning," the airline said, adding that it is working with safety at the forefront to urgently address the wide-scale disruption by rebalancing the airline and repositioning crews to ultimately best serve any Southwest travelers.

Southwest was especially hit hard by the winter storms over the holiday travel period, along with other issues including unexpected fog in San Diego and staffing shortages at a fuel vendor in Denver, COO Andrew Watterson told staff.

"We were fully staffed and prepared for the approaching holiday weekend when the severe weather swept across the continent, where Southwest is the largest carrier in 23 of the top 25 travel markets in the U.S. These operational conditions forced daily changes to our flight schedule at a volume and magnitude that still has the tools our teams use to recover the airline operating at capacity," the airline said, noting it anticipates additional changes with an already reduced level of flights as the New Year holiday travel period quickly approaches.

"Part of what we're suffering is a lack of tools," Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said in a message to staff on Sunday. "We've talked an awful lot about modernizing the operation, and the need to do that. And Crew Scheduling is one of the places that we need to invest in. We need to be able to produce solutions faster."

Southwest announced that they will operate one-third of its scheduled flights "for the next several days." Their website said their phone system is very busy right now due to high demand, and customers booked during this time may be eligible to rebook or fly standby without any charges.

The airline said it is working to reach customers whose travel plans will change with information and options. It also said it recognizes and apologizes for its shortcomings.

"Our Employees and Crews scheduled to work this holiday season are showing up in every single way. We are beyond grateful for that. Our shared goal is to take care of every single Customer with the Hospitality and Heart for which we’re known. On the other side of this, we’ll work to make things right for those we’ve let down, including our Employees," the airline said. "With no concern higher than ultimate Safety, the People of Southwest share a goal to take care of each and every Customer. We recognize falling short and sincerely apologize."

Boston travelers leaving Logan Airport Monday morning were anxious to see whether or not their flights would be cancelled or delayed after a winter storm caused chaos across the country.

Some travelers who left from Boston Logan Airport early Monday morning had breathed sighs of relief to find short lines and only a few cancellations.

“It wasn’t as busy as I thought it would be,” said Samuel Mechah, from Minneapolis, Minnesota.

He said he was worried about the winter weather impacting his flight to Boston.

“I showed up like three hours early but I went right in and right out I don’t think too many people want to travel. There’s a lot of delays, people sleeping on the floor and stuff like that hey it’s the holidays though what can you do,” he said.

“We were delayed 45 minutes out of Richmond but compared to the horror stories we’re grateful, we had a good holiday,” said Melissa Radtke who was headed home.

But others weren't so lucky.

Roberto from Lansing, Michigan is spending more time in Boston than he planned after his Monday morning flight was rebooked for Wednesday.

“I’m trying to stay positive but people are doing the best they can you know,” he said.

A family visiting from Brazil said they also had to find a place to stay after their flight was rebooked for Wednesday, too.

“That’s okay. We have to deal with these kinds of things especially because we are one day after Christmas and there’s a lot of people traveling and certainly we’re not the only ones to deal with this,” said the mother.

Down at arrivals, the mood was more cheery as some holiday visits were just getting started.

“Who can beat this time of year? It’s fun for us,” said Liv from Sharon, Massachusetts, as she was picking up family members with her daughter Heady. “She’s the eldest of my three so we’re well into teenage years so it's fun to have little ones arriving again and the sort of craziness that that brings and we’re just excited to spend time with them.”

In an update posted online, Delta airlines attributed its continued cancellations to damage to airport infrastructure, frozen equipment and restrictions on some ground operations across the country.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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