DENVER — Days after severe winter weather across the United States interrupted holiday travel, thousands of passengers at Denver International Airport remain stranded and without their luggage as flight cancellations continue. According to FlightAware, 469 flights in and out of Denver had been cancelled Monday as of 8:30 PM, with three quarters of the impacted flights coming from Southwest.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation confirmed the agency will investigate the cancellations and ensuing travel headaches.
“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,” the USDOT 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 other pertinent rules.”
Southwest Airlines declined an interview request from Denver7, but sent a statement saying that “consecutive days of extreme winter weather” has lead to “continuing challenges” that “are impacting our Customers and Employees in a significant way that is unacceptable.”
“On the other side of this, we’ll work to make things right for those we’ve let down, including our Employees,” the statement read.
The union representing Southwest flight attendants, however, rejected the notion that the travel meltdown was due solely to the severe winter weather. Lyn Montgomery, the union’s president, said she and others had been warning leadership at the airline for “a very long time” that it’s crew scheduling system was outdated and not adequate for a staffing situation such as this.
“This is not Winter Storm Elliot’s fault. This is archaic technology that Southwest Airlines executives need to modernize,” Montgomery said. “The last few days have been absolutely horrible days for Southwest Airlines flight attendants, some of the worst in our history … Southwest Airlines has not done enough to make it right for its customers or its employees.”
Adding to the frustration and confusion has been the fact that many travelers have not been able to locate their luggage, and report little to no helpful information from Southwest Airlines. Monday evening in Denver, airline employees were telling passengers in a four-hour line at the baggage claim office that even if their flights had been canceled, their baggage would still be taken to their final destination.
“It’s just chaotic,” said traveler Tiffany Boyles, whose flight from Denver to Nashville was delayed multiple times before ultimately being cancelled. “As they were loading the bags, they canceled our flight. And that was four days ago. And we’ve called and called, and no one’s returned a phone call. [We have] no idea where our bags are.”
It’s unclear how long it will take for Southwest Airlines to work through rescheduling flights and reuniting passengers with their luggage. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan anticipated that only about a third of its scheduled flights Tuesday December 27th and Wednesday December 28th would operate.
With so many delays and cancellations, it can be difficult to know your rights as a traveler and what you are entitle to for compensation. The U.S Department of Transportation's Office of Aviation Consumer Protection has a website that can help navigate and understand what U.S. Airlines should provide. You can find out more information by clicking here.