Southwest fuels air travel collapse at San Jose, Oakland airports

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Airports in San Jose and Oakland are seeing another day of mass cancellations amid a devastating holiday travel collapse fueled by Southwest Airlines.

At Mineta San Jose International, Southwest has canceled 152 flights – a staggering 76% of scheduled air travel – by Tuesday morning. Oakland International saw 57% of Southwest flights canceled. San Francisco International Airport also saw the majority of Southwest flights canceled, however, the airport is not a major hub for the Dallas-based airline.

The air travel chaos has triggered a closer look at Southwest operations by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which called the rate of cancellations “disproportionate and unacceptable,” and sought to ensure that the carrier was sticking by its obligations to stranded customers.

The size and severity of the Christmas-weekend winter storm created havoc for airlines. Airports were overwhelmed by intense snowfall and drifts. Airlines canceled as many as 20% of their flights Saturday and Sunday and Buffalo Niagara International Airport, close to the epicenter of the storm, remains closed Tuesday.

Yet it has become clear that Southwest is suffering a disproportionate disruption. Of the approximately 2,950 flight cancellations in the U.S. by midday Tuesday, 2,549 were called off by Southwest.

Kathleen Bangs, an air travel expert at Flight Aware, said the Southwest network is more susceptible to delays because of a larger amount of “short-haul” flights, which create more frequent plane turnarounds at airports.

“Every time they stop, they’ve got to do a turnaround it’s like an IndyCar Formula One pit crew comes out that fuels and cleans the airplane,” she said. “You couple that with weather and so many employees out sick . . . all of this coalesces to create this problem.”

Bangs’s advice for travelers stranded across the country: “You have to look at the country like a chessboard.”

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