Southwest cancels 70% of its flights as travelers try to get home

On the busy day-after-Christmas travel day, Southwest Airlines canceled more than 2,700 flights, frustrating passengers across the country.

Overall, around 3,900 flights were canceled within, into or out of the U.S. on Monday, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware.

Southwest had 2,893 flights canceled at one point Monday, or 70% of its schedule, according to the site. Delta had around 300 and United around 130.

“Our heartfelt apologies for this are just beginning,” Southwest said in a statement Monday.

It blamed “operational challenges” that followed days of severe winter weather across most of the country.

Bags piled up at Denver International Airport and Chicago’s Midway Airport, video showed.

“I’m angry as hell, because I see mismanagement,” Ihore Konrad told NBC Chicago. He had been stranded at the airport for two days because of cancellations, according to the station.

A spokesperson for Southwest did not have an exact number of flights that had been canceled because things were continuing to change but said, “It’s a significant portion of our published flight schedule.”

Southwest CEO Bob Jordan told The Wall Street Journal that the company plans to operate just over one-third of its typical schedule Tuesday and Wednesday to give staff members a chance to get in position.

“We had a tough day today. In all likelihood we’ll have another tough day tomorrow as we work our way out of this,” Jordan told the newspaper.

Passengers and others took to social media to post photos of bags piling up at airports. Southwest said it was inundated with calls and messages and asked for patience.

Much of the continental U.S., at one point covering over 200 million people, was under winter weather warnings or alerts going into the holiday weekend, with bitterly cold temperatures and ice.

On Saturday, Sunday and Monday combined, over 8,200 flights into, out of or within the U.S. were canceled, according to FlightAware.

The issue with Southwest flights also caught the attention of the Transportation Department, which called the airline’s performance 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 department spokesperson said in a statement.

“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,” the statement said.

Southwest said that it was staffed in advance of the holiday but that the severe weather greatly affected its plans.

“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.

The day after Christmas is typically one of busier travel days of the year — although the Transportation Security Administration said last week it expected Dec. 22 and Dec. 30 to be the busiest this year.

More than 2 million passengers passed through TSA checkpoints Friday, and on Sunday the number was 1.7 million, according to the TSA website. Numbers for Monday had not yet been posted online.

At Raleigh-Durham International Airport in North Carolina, what was supposed to have been a flight instead turned to long trips by road — after Southwest flights were canceled, passengers were given the choice to travel by bus, NBC affiliate WRAL of Raleigh reported.

“There’s nothing else I can do except sit on this bus to get back home,” passenger Eric Ford told the station.