Is Southwest Still Canceling Flights? (And How to Make Sure You Get a Refund If Your Flight Was Canceled)

After scrapping more than 15,000 flights during the holidays, the airline addresses its current state of operations and what it’s doing to make things right for affected customers.

Southwest Airlines experienced a total operational meltdown over the holiday travel season. Now, it wants to earn back travelers' trust.

Southwest Airlines experienced a total operational meltdown over the holiday travel season. Now, it wants to earn back travelers’ trust.

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Last month, Northern California resident Joanne Marzan and her seven-year-old son took a short trip to Southern California to spend Christmas with Marzan’s family. Their return flight from Orange County to the Bay Area on Southwest Airlines was scheduled for Monday, December 26. That’s when their travel fiasco began.

“We got to the kiosk at John Wayne Airport, and it said our flight was canceled and to talk to an agent. The line was wrapped around the terminal and the customer-service phone line was a constant busy signal. So I immediately booked a rental car as backup in case I couldn’t rebook our flight. And I’m so glad I did. I never got through to Southwest. The rental company said I got lucky I got a car reservation since they were turning people away,” says Marzan.

Southwest was not the only airline affected by delays and cancellations this past holiday season. Disruptions swept the country in the lead-up to and over the December 25 holiday weekend due to severe winter storms and colder-than-average weather across much of the United States. But even as operations recovered at other major U.S. carriers, Southwest struggled to normalize operations and continued to cancel flights in the days following Christmas.

Ultimately, Southwest canceled more than 15,000 flights between Thursday, December 22, and Thursday, December 29, or more than half of its scheduled flights during that time frame, according to flight data tracking service FlightAware.

“We were one of the lucky ones having the option to drive back. I haven’t yet been able to connect with their customer-service team,” says Marzan, who is still hoping to get a reimbursement from Southwest for the car rental, which set her back $400 (the airline has promised refunds for canceled flights and reimbursements for travel expenses).

Marzan is not the only one who found themselves in a holiday travel “flightmare” after Southwest’s operations experienced a complete meltdown over Christmas weekend and in the days after.

Mae Hamilton, an assistant editor at AFAR and a self-proclaimed “loyal Southwest customer,” also endured holiday flight disruptions when she and her husband attempted to fly from Los Angeles to Dallas for Christmas.

They flew out of Los Angeles International Airport on December 22, when the first signs of trouble arose. “An announcement was made on the overhead speaker that the ground crew was having trouble locating one last flight attendant. Their scheduling program was malfunctioning and they were forced to use the much slower method of calling the company to locate the last crew member,” recalls Hamilton.

The flight ended up taking off only 30 minutes after its originally scheduled departure time, and Hamilton said she “figured that would probably be the end of it.”

But a few days before their flight home on December 28, when they started to see headlines about the massive Southwest disruptions that were leaving countless customers stranded, “We realized we would probably not be leaving Dallas on Southwest at all and quickly tried to book another flight home. We managed to find another on American Airlines, but it was a few days out from when we had originally intended to leave, and [the flights] were very pricey. Thankfully, we were staying with family so it was not a problem to stay a few extra days longer than we had intended,” says Hamilton.

Hamilton has submitted the additional expenses for the American flights to Southwest for reimbursement and is awaiting correspondence regarding any recompense from the airline.

Federal regulators have vowed a rigorous review of what happened at Southwest, with all eyes on outdated crew-scheduling technology that left flight crews out of place after storms hit, essentially shutting down almost all of the carrier’s operations.

“Here’s why this giant puzzle is taking us several days to solve,” Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said in a statement issued on December 27. “Our network is highly complex and the operation of the airline counts on all the pieces, especially aircraft and crews remaining in motion to where they’re planned to go.”

Jordan added that the carrier has been focused on getting “all of the pieces back into position to end this rolling struggle …. The tools we use to recover from disruption serve us well, 99 percent of the time; but clearly, we need to double down on our already existing plans to upgrade systems for these extreme circumstances so that we never again face what’s happening right now.”

Is Southwest still canceling flights?

Thankfully, Southwest returned to a relatively normal flight schedule on Friday, December 30, and the carrier states on its website that it has currently resumed its “full schedule of flights with minimal interruptions.”

Southwest only canceled about 1 percent of its flights over the New Year’s weekend, according to data provided by FlightAware.

How to make sure you get a refund

With its operations normalized, Southwest is now focused on making things right for the more than 1 million travelers estimated to have been affected by last week’s disruptions.

The company said in a statement that it is working on a “multi-faceted plan to win back trust and repair relationships with those who count on Southwest to come through.”

Here are some of the avenues for obtaining refunds, reimbursements, and other methods of recourse established by the carrier.

A dedicated website

Southwest has set up a dedicated website with information about the holiday flight disruptions: southwest.com/traveldisruption.

Flight refunds

For those whose flights were canceled or significantly delayed for travel that was scheduled to take place between December 24, 2022, and January 2, 2023, you may request a refund (not just a future flight credit) through an online form.

Reimbursement for travel expenses

To submit a reimbursement request for expenses incurred due to a flight cancellation or significant flight delay for travel that was scheduled to take place between December 24, 2022, and January 2, 2023, Southwest is asking customers to fill out an email form (make sure to select “Expense Reimbursement Request”). Travelers should attach copies of their expenses to the email form for review. Southwest stated that it will honor “reasonable requests for meals, hotel accommodations, and alternate transportation (for example: rental cars and tickets on other airlines).”

Tracking lost luggage

Those trying to locate lost luggage should fill out a dedicated online form, which includes the option to have the baggage delivered to a designated address.

“We intend nearly all baggage delayed during the recent holiday travel week to be shipped or delivered by midweek,” Southwest said in a statement issued on January 3.

Improving customer relations

Starting January 3, Southwest is reaching out via email “to every ticketed customer significantly impacted last week,” the carrier stated in its latest update.

“Our teams are focused on returning baggage, processing requests for refunds, and reimbursing certain incidental expenses related to the disruption in travel in a round-the-clock effort,” Southwest stated.

The plan to “make sure that this never happens again”

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is currently investigating what happened at Southwest. A Senate committee promises to investigate, too. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has criticized airlines for previous disruptions, said that “meltdown” was the only word he could think of to describe last week’s events at Southwest.

For its part, Southwest stated that “the urgent work continues on planned improvements to processes and systems that will bolster the ability of Southwest to recover effectively in large-scale disruptions of our operational plans.”

In an interview on Good Morning America on December 30, Southwest CEO Jordan acknowledged the challenges ahead for the carrier in order to recover from the holiday travel collapse.

“This has impacted so many people, so many customers over the holidays. It’s impacted our employees. And I’m extremely sorry for that. There’s just no way almost to apologize enough,” said Jordan, adding, that “there’ll be a lot of lessons learned in terms of what we can do to make sure that this never happens again, because this needs to never happen again.”

Associated Press contributed reporting.

Michelle Baran is the senior travel news editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, pandemic coverage, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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