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Southwest pilots have had to book their own hotel rooms during the airline's operational meltdown

Business Insider logo Business Insider 12/28/2022 (Taylor Rains)
Mike Stewart/AP © Mike Stewart/AP Mike Stewart/AP
  • Southwest Airlines has been experiencing an operational meltdown due to the winter storm and "scheduling issues."
  • Company union VP Captain Mike Santoro told Insider that pilots are booking their own hotel rooms.
  • He explained clogged phone lines are to blame for the lack of accommodations, but pilots will be reimbursed.

Southwest Airlines passengers aren't the only people fighting for hotels.

A snowballing operational meltdown has forced the airline to cancel thousands of flights on Monday and Tuesday, according to FlightAware data, blaming the winter storm and "scheduling issues" on the chaos.

Captain Mike Santoro, vice president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA), told Insider the union is encouraging its pilots to book their own accommodations during the meltdown and some pilots have had to do that.

Santoro explained that when a pilot does not have a room and they are not in their base, they are instructed to call a specific number to request a hotel. However, because the line is so backed up, there is no way to get through to anyone. On a normal day, the wait times would be significantly lower.

"What we've told our pilots is after 30 minutes on hold, they should absolutely get their own room and expense it back to the company," Santoro explained.

He told Insider that the decision to tell crew members to book their own accommodations comes down to safety.

"Safety is a Southwest number one, so they are not going to argue against getting a pilot rested to do their duties the next day," Santoro said. "They [Southwest] never object to a pilot getting their own room and expensing it, so I will take their side on that one."

Flight attendants are also being left without hotel rooms, with the union, TWU Local 556, telling CNBC that some crew members were forced to sleep in airports because they couldn't get accommodations.

"Employees, like customers, may submit receipts for reimbursement consideration," a Southwest representative told Insider.

In a previous statement, Southwest said it would "work to make things right for those we've let down, including our employees."

Despite the ongoing problems, Southwest is trying to make things better for both its customers and employees, saying it is addressing the disruption "by rebalancing the airline and repositioning crews and our fleet ultimately to best serve all who plan to travel with us."

"This safety-first work is intentional, ongoing, and necessary to return to normal reliability, one that minimizes last-minute inconveniences," the carrier said in a statement. "As we continue the work to recover our operation, we have made the decision to continue operating a reduced schedule by flying roughly one-third of our schedule for the next several days."

Customers impacted can contact Southwest to rebook or request a refund, and take advantage of the carrier's current flexibility policy.


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