US Airlines Prepare for Holiday Travel After 2022 Blizzard Chaos

In the wake of a disastrous holiday season in 2022, major US airlines are under scrutiny as they prepare for the upcoming holiday travel period. The US Transportation Department has initiated an investigation into the travel chaos that occurred during the 2022 holiday period. The probe is examining whether Southwest Airlines, in particular, is scheduling more flights than it can manage.


The 2022 Holiday Travel Chaos

During the 2022 holiday season, Southwest Airlines experienced a significant disruption in its operations. The airline canceled more than 16,000 flights over 11 days at the end of December due to a combination of severe winter weather, staffing shortages, and technology issues. This left thousands of passengers stranded in airports across the country instead of at home for the holidays. The Department of Transportation may impose a fine on Southwest for the travel chaos seen during the 2022 holiday period. Amid both bad weather in multiple parts of the country and a breakdown of the airline’s booking system software, nearly 4,000 or 75% of all of Southwest’s domestic flights were canceled on the day after Christmas alone³. An additional 16,700 flights were affected in the coming days.


The Investigation and Potential Consequences

The Department of Transportation's investigation includes an examination of whether Southwest is scheduling more flights than it can handle. After almost a year of investigations into what exactly went wrong, regulators from the Department of Transportation determined that the airline had indeed failed to provide “adequate customer service assistance, prompt flight status notifications, and proper and prompt refunds." A regulatory filing first reported by Reuters shows that Southwest had been notified of the finding on Oct. 27 and also told that a civil penalty may be on its way as well. No details about the amount or timing of the fine have yet been released but in announcing the information Southwest said that it would be working with the Department of Transportation to resolve the matter to the satisfaction of all.


Looking Ahead

As the holiday season approaches, key US airlines have issued travel waivers ahead of what's forecast to be a brutal "bomb cyclone" of wintry weather in the Midwest and other regions later this week. The important aviation hub of Chicago is forecast to be one of the cities hit the hardest, with the National Weather Service warning of the potential for a blizzard. The airlines, regulators, and passengers alike will be hoping for a smoother holiday travel period this year. However, the lessons from the 2022 holiday season serve as a stark reminder of the challenges that can arise during this busy time of year.

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