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The Chaos of Thousands of Flight Cancellations

I am observing the nightmare that was still going on yesterday, days after it first started, at America’s airports, and I am shaking: “But is it possible,” I say to myself, “that these scenes are unfolding at U.S. airports?”

Southwest Airlines continued to cancel thousands of flights a day – Thursday it canceled 2,350 flights after 2,500 on Wednesday, or 62% of its flights! – causing unimaginable inconvenience, a waste of precious time and money – during the travel period between Christmas and New Year.

Tens of thousands of desperate passengers are scrambling to find a way to get to their destinations, to spend New Years’ with their families, or to get to wherever their destination is.

There are mountains of luggage. Chaos beyond description. Passengers left to their fate – to contact the airline they may have to wait on the phone line for up to six hours – to find a solution to their nightmare.

Other airlines have also had problems because of the severe weather that hit the United States last week – but there is no comparison to Southwest Airlines.

The president of Transport Workers Union Local 556, which represents Southwest’s flight attendants, agreed with what we are hearing from the pilots: “It is not weather; it is not staffing; it is not a concerted labor effort; it is the complete failure of Southwest Airlines’ executive leadership. It is their decision to continue to expand and grow without the technology needed to handle it.”

You and I, the passengers in general, have no way of knowing what is going on. We buy tickets to travel on the basis that an airline is considered safe and is well-operated, since it has government approval.

And what did the government do in this case? Did it audit the airline? Was it aware of its problem? Did it step in to protect its tens of thousands of helpless citizens by booking seats with other airlines, who were left to sleep in airports for days? Of course not.

Is it not a disgrace, and a great disgrace at that, that this has been taking place for years in American airports?


Along with its tragic elements, it was also a profound national moment.

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