DENVER — Southwest Airlines has nothing, and no one, to blame but itself for the holiday travel fiasco playing out in Denver and at airports nationwide, according to a veteran flight attendant who works for the airline.
That flight attendant spoke with Denver7 on Wednesday under the condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions for speaking out.
Southwest has blamed Winter Storm Elliott and staffing challenges for the travel nightmare that has canceled thousands of flights and piled up thousands of unclaimed bags at U.S. airports. The flight attendant we spoke to, though, painted a picture of an airline that “imploded on itself” through sweeping technological failures, leaving both its passengers and its employees high and dry.
“I want to make it clear that this is not a crew scheduling issue,” they said. “This is a technology issue. There are people waiting 17, 18, 19 hours to get a hold of scheduling.
“[The scheduling department is] just inundated with calls. They're overwhelmed. And so trying to talk to them to tell them exactly where we are, is not happening.”
The flight attendant, who has worked for Southwest for several years and verified their employment with the airline to Denver7, said the anger of weary passengers has been unjustly directed at flight attendants and gate agents across the country.
“This week, I cried with passengers,” they said. “That's why I wanted to talk, because I want people to know that Southwest is a huge company. It's corporate, but we are not.
“We are right there with you. And we feel your pain. And we have a lot of pain and disappointment.”
Denver7 went in-depth on the technology and infrastructure factors that led to the operational failure at Southwest. In short, outdated technology systems and a point-to-point route map created the perfect storm for a devastating domino effect.
The worst part about it, though, in the eyes of the flight attendant who spoke with us, is that the airline knew it was vulnerable to such disruptions.
“We've been warning them. The pilots union, the pilots, the flight attendants, the flight attendants’ union [...] it's a constant thing that's been happening over the years that I've been with them," the flight attendant said. “They are well aware.”
The flight attendant said the airline has seen similar, less catastrophic breakdowns in the past. They described the company’s response as “unfulfilled promises” to be better.
“And it's just falling on deaf ears right now,” they said. “A company of this size shouldn't have these problems. And we're just we're done with the apologies. We want to see action.”
That action, the flight attendant says, begins with taking accountability for the systems failures and learning from them for the future.
Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan said in a video message posted to the airline's social media Tuesday the company is doing everything it can "to return to a normal operation."
"The tools we use to recover from disruption serve us well 99% of the time, but clearly we need to double down on our already existing plans to upgrade systems for these extreme circumstances," Jordan said.
On the heels of wide-scale disruptions, we're working diligently to Safely recover our operation & accommodate displaced Customers & Crews. We know this is unacceptable & sincerely apologize. If your travel was impacted, explore self-service options here: https://t.co/B6L8HR9Yqc pic.twitter.com/mLWndYMned— Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) December 28, 2022
In the meantime, the flight attendant hopes the public understands that the airline’s crew members are on their side.
“We've let everybody down,” the flight attendant said. “The company's let me down. We've let the passengers down.”