(CNN) — For passengers who’re booked with Southwest Airways this week, the much-needed conclusion to the service’s troubles remains to be a number of agonizing days away.

Because the beleaguered airline continues to kind out stranded passengers, uncollected baggage and out-of-position airplanes, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has taken the airline to job.

He is referred to the state of affairs as an entire “meltdown” of the system. And the airline’s choice to enact “operational emergency” staffing final week on the airport in Denver as an enormous winter storm bore down hints at a tangle of things contributing to the airline’s operational disaster.

The emergency staffing procedures in Denver included requiring a notice from a physician to confirm sickness after an worker calls out sick, a Southwest spokesperson informed CNN on Wednesday.

The spokesperson couldn’t say whether or not the staffing coverage stays in place or when the particular guidelines ended.

The Washington Submit cites a Southwest memo associated to the operational emergency, dated December 21, during which the airline’s vp for floor operations declared the situation due to an “unusually excessive variety of absences” of Denver-based ramp staff, together with sick calls and private days for afternoon and night shifts.

The operational emergency — skilled solely at Denver, based on the corporate — is distinct from the problem the corporate says is responsible for the cascade of cancellations. That cascade continued into Wednesday afternoon.

Newest flight cancellation stats

Of the two,844 cancellations already scheduled for Wednesday flights departing inside, to or out of the USA as of two p.m. ET, some 2,509 of them are operated by Southwest, based on flight monitoring web site FlightAware. That’s 88% of all canceled flights in the USA; all the opposite airways collectively account for the remaining 12%.

In all, Southwest has canceled about 15,700 flights since winter climate started disrupting air journey on December 22. That determine contains nearly 2,350 flights already canceled for Thursday.

The airline has struggled to unwind itself from the cancellations that started with the winter storm. Union leaders say software program and handbook processes are used to reassign flight crews, who for security causes are restricted within the variety of hours they could work.

Southwest spokesperson Chris Perry informed CNN the airline will not be experiencing a problem with staff not exhibiting up for work.

“We’ve not had staffing points at any station throughout our operation and commend our Folks for the valiant work they’re doing,” Perry mentioned.

That is now a Southwest drawback

Different US airways which are flying in the identical climate circumstances have since recovered from the storm disruptions.

In truth, American Airways and United Airways have capped costs on some routes served by Southwest Airways to make their flights extra accessible to stranded passengers.

Southwest doesn’t have interline agreements with different carriers that will enable its brokers to rebook passengers on a special airline, leaving vacationers in command of exploring different choices.

Denver Worldwide Airport is main the way in which Wednesday within the variety of cancellations, with important cancellations at Chicago Halfway, Dallas Love Area, Las Vegas Harry Reid and Nashville Worldwide airports, amongst others.

Southwest plans to fly a diminished schedule over the subsequent few days to reposition crew and planes, airline CEO Bob Jordan mentioned in a video launched by the airline late Tuesday.

“We’re optimistic to be again on observe earlier than subsequent week,” he mentioned.

Buttigieg says he spoke on to Jordan on Tuesday concerning the hundreds of flights which were canceled this week.

“Their system actually has fully melted down,” Buttigieg informed CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday.

“I made clear that our division might be holding them accountable for his or her obligations to prospects, each to get them by this example and to make it possible for this could’t occur once more.”

These obligations embrace offering meal vouchers and lodge lodging for passengers whose flights have been disrupted “on account of Southwest’s choices and actions,” a Division of Transportation spokesperson mentioned Tuesday.

US airways are additionally required to offer money refunds to passengers whose flights have been canceled and opted to not journey, the DOT mentioned.

Tuesday at a look

CNN’s Carlos Suarez reviews from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, the place vacationers are braving lengthy strains and flight cancellations after an enormous winter storm swept by the US.

There have been 3,211 flights inside, into or out of the USA that have been canceled on Tuesday, based on FlightAware.

Southwest accounted for two,694 of these canceled flights — a surprising 84% of all canceled flights in the USA.

Lengthy strains of vacationers making an attempt to rebook or make connections have been witnessed at Southwest ticket counters at a number of US airports on Tuesday, whereas large piles of unclaimed baggage continued to develop as passengers struggled to reclaim their baggage in airports, together with Chicago’s Halfway Worldwide, Harry Reid in Las Vegas and William P. Passion Airport in Houston

Passenger Trisha Jones informed CNN on the airport in Atlanta that she and her associate had been touring for 5 days, making an attempt to get residence to Wichita, Kansas, after disembarking from a cruise at Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

After her flight out was canceled, she stayed with family, then rerouted to Atlanta to choose up a connecting flight.

“We have been lucky, as a result of we have been in Fort Lauderdale — my household lives within the Tampa bay space so we have been in a position to hire a automobile to go see my household for Christmas,” Jones mentioned. “We have seen quite a lot of households who’re sleeping on the ground, and it simply breaks my coronary heart.”

Buttigieg: ‘A number of cleansing as much as do’

Lots of of luggage stay unclaimed at Baltimore Washington Worldwide Airport (BWI) on December 28.

Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Southwest has blamed the journey catastrophe on a number of components, together with winter storm delays, aggressive flight scheduling and outdated infrastructure.

“From what I can inform, Southwest is unable to find even the place their very own crews are, not to mention their very own passengers, not to mention baggage,” mentioned Buttigieg, including that he additionally spoke with leaders of the airline’s unions representing flight attendants and pilots.

The secretary mentioned he informed CEO Jordan that he expects Southwest to proactively provide refunds and expense reimbursement to affected passengers with out them having to ask.

“I conveyed to the CEO our expectation that they will go above and past to handle passengers and to deal with this,” he mentioned.

Buttigieg informed CNN the Division of Transportation is ready to pursue fines towards Southwest if there’s proof that the corporate has failed to satisfy its authorized obligations, however he added that the division might be taking a better have a look at constant customer support issues on the airline.

“Whereas the entire different elements of the aviation system have been shifting towards restoration and getting higher every day, it is truly been shifting the wrong way with this airline,” mentioned Buttigieg.

“You have obtained an organization right here that is obtained quite a lot of cleansing as much as do,” he mentioned.

Southwest CEO points video apology

Jordan apologized to passengers and staff within the video launched on Tuesday night.

“We’re doing every little thing we are able to to return to a traditional operation, and please additionally hear that I’m actually sorry,” Jordan mentioned.

He mentioned with giant numbers of airplanes and flight crews “out of place” in dozens of cities, the airline determined to “considerably scale back our flying to catch up.”

Whereas Jordan acknowledged issues with the corporate response, the assertion recommended that he didn’t foresee large modifications to Southwest’s working plans in response to the mass cancellations.

“The instruments we use to get well from disruption serve us properly 99% of the time, however clearly we have to double-down on our already-existing plans to improve methods for these excessive circumstances in order that we by no means once more face what’s taking place proper now,” mentioned Jordan.

Is there something passengers can do?

Katy Nastro, spokesperson for Scott’s Low cost Flights, shares her tips about what to do in case your flight is delayed or canceled.

Southwest has warned that this week’s cancellations and delays are anticipated to proceed for a number of extra days.

So what ought to prospects do?

“First issues first, vacationers who’re nonetheless caught ready on Southwest and must get someplace ought to attempt to e book a flight with one other airline as quickly as potential … proper now, actually,” mentioned Kyle Potter, govt editor on the journey recommendation web site Thrifty Traveler, in an electronic mail to CNN Journey late Tuesday afternoon.

“Each airline within the nation is jam-packed proper now, so your odds of even discovering a seat — not to mention at a good midway first rate worth — get smaller by the hour,” Potter mentioned.

“Vacationers within the thick of this could make sure you save all their receipts: different flights, a rental automobile, nights on the lodge, meals, something,” Potter mentioned.

If you happen to’ve been left within the lurch and your efforts to succeed in a customer support agent are going nowhere, the founding father of Scott’s Low cost Flights suggests making an attempt a global quantity.

“The principle hotline for US airways might be clogged with different passengers getting rebooked. To get by to an agent rapidly, name any one of many airline’s dozens of worldwide workplaces,” Scott Keyes mentioned. These brokers can deal with US-based reservations, Keyes mentioned.

Click on right here to get worldwide numbers that Southwest has beforehand posted.

Southwest: ‘Hold your receipts’

After their flight was canceled, 13 strangers determined to hire a van and drive all the way in which from Orlando to Knoxville, Tennessee.

Southwest spokesperson Jay McVay mentioned in a information convention at Houston’s William P. Passion Airport on Monday night time the airline will do every little thing potential to proper the challenges passengers have skilled, together with “resorts, journey help, vans … rental vehicles to strive and ensure these people get residence as rapidly as potential.”

He promised that each one prospects, even those that had already left the airport or made alternate preparations on their very own, would even be taken care of.

“If you happen to’ve already left, handle your self, do what it’s essential do for your loved ones, maintain your receipts,” McVay relayed. “We are going to be sure that they’re taken care of, that isn’t a query.”

What’s improper from a pilot’s standpoint

Passengers look for their luggage at Hollywood Burbank Airport in California on Tuesday.

Passengers search for their baggage at Hollywood Burbank Airport in California on Tuesday.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Photos

Talking to CNN on Tuesday, the vp of the Southwest Airways Pilots Affiliation, Capt. Mike Santoro, mentioned the issues dealing with Southwest have been the worst disruptions he’d skilled in 16 years on the airline.

He described final week’s storm as a catalyst that helped set off main technical points.

“What went improper is that our IT infrastructure for scheduling software program is vastly outdated,” he mentioned. “It will probably’t deal with the variety of pilots, flight attendants that we have now within the system, with our advanced route community.

“We do not have the conventional hub the opposite main airways do. We fly a point-to-point community, which might put our crews within the improper locations, with out airplanes.”

He added: “It’s irritating for the pilots, the flight attendants and particularly our passengers. We’re uninterested in apologizing for Southwest, the pilots within the airline, our hearts exit to the entire passengers, they actually do.”

CNN’s Gregory Wallace, Andy Rose, Andi Babineau, Adrienne Broaddus, Dave Alsap, Nick Valencia, David Goldman, Leslie Perrot, Carlos Suarez and Ross Levitt contributed to this story.

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