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Checking in with Southwest after it promised a return to near-normal operations


Eight days after Southwest Airlines melted down in the face of the big winter storm, the airline is back to near-normal operations today. Thousands of stranded passengers have finally been able to resume their delayed journeys and maybe reunite with their luggage. Colorado Public Radio's Matt Bloom has been talking to people flying through Denver, which was a major point of failure for Southwest this week, and he joins us from Denver International Airport. Hey, Matt.


SHAPIRO: All right. The airline tracking site FlightAware says, so far today, Southwest has canceled only about 40 flights, compared to thousands a day prior - earlier in the week. What does it look like where you are? Do things seem back to normal?

BLOOM: We're definitely getting there. Southwest's ticket counter throughout the day has been busy, but not usually - unusually so for the holidays. We've seen just six cancellations total here today and a few dozen delays, which isn't great. But I was here on Christmas, and I'll tell you it was a completely different story. I mean, red canceled signs on - all over the departure screens, lines hundreds of people deep. So it's definitely improving here, and we've seen in other airports as well.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Over the last week, Southwest canceled something like 15,000 flights. So what are they saying about how they plan to compensate customers for that massive disruption?

BLOOM: Well, the company says it's already started issuing refunds for unused tickets. It's directing passengers to their website, where you can fill out a request using your name and a confirmation number. That's for all unused tickets between Christmas Eve and up to January 2. If you got stranded, unfortunately, Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said that the airline would also reimburse your expenses from the delay. That includes hotel rooms, rental cars, meals and even bookings on other airlines. That's in line, I should point out, with FAA regulations and what the U.S. Department of Transportation says it expects. Obviously, what I've been talking about is just a form, and there are a lot of folks now in the process of waiting for their money back.

SHAPIRO: We're hearing some of the airport hubbub behind you there. Have you spoken to any of those folks who are waiting to get their money back?

BLOOM: Yeah. I have heard it from a lot of people here, actually, that have already gotten their refunds. I met Rhonda Duskey (ph) in the baggage claim area, where I'm at right now. We were chatting, and she actually checked her bank account with me, and it had arrived.

RHONDA DUSKEY: So that's good news.

BLOOM: That's good.

DUSKEY: We actually were stuck in the fiasco in June 2021 in Vegas.

BLOOM: Oh, no.

DUSKEY: (Laughter) This is the second time.

BLOOM: She added that she probably won't fly Southwest for a while after this latest experience. But I'll point out that I met Duskey in a line at Southwest's lost bag office. Her flight actually got canceled Monday, and she said she hasn't been able to get through to a real human to find out where her bags are. So she actually drove 2 hours from her house to the airport to try to talk to someone face-to-face today.

SHAPIRO: And I'm sure thousands of people are in that situation across the country. Has Southwest explained how they plan to get bags back to their owners?

BLOOM: You know, not really. They are directing people to fill out a form on their website, which might sound similar to the ticket refund situation I mentioned. But a lot of people I've spoken with have done just that and still haven't heard anything from the company. And that's certainly frustrating for a lot of folks who have medications, clothes, other necessities that they can't get access to.

Now, both the Biden administration and members of Congress say they're investigating this whole debacle.


BLOOM: Corporate executives, including the CEO here in Denver, say they want to talk to Southwest and other airlines about what went so wrong operationally.

SHAPIRO: That's Matt Bloom with Colorado Public Radio. Thanks a lot, Matt.

BLOOM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Matt Bloom
Matt is a passionate journalist who loves nothing more than good reporting, music and comedy. At KUNC, he covers breaking news stories and the economy. He’s also reported for KPCC and KCRW in Los Angeles. As NPR’s National Desk intern in Culver City during the summer of 2015, he produced one of the first episodes of Embedded, the NPR podcast hosted by Kelly McEvers where reporters take a story from the headlines and “go deep.”