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Pilots union blames Southwest leadership for holiday issues

As passengers try coping with cancelled flights and lost bags, Capt. Casey Murray says the issue lies with Southwest’s leaders being slow to upgrade company tech.

DALLAS — After the roped off area in front of the Love Field Airport baggage claim office filled up, bags began to just pile up along a back wall, then in between carousels and eventually resting on them.

As some people picked through the hundreds of bags scattered around, others waited in long lines for an hour or two for help.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Jeff Galaska, who tried to fly out of Love Field on Christmas Day.

Galaska says Southwest rebooked him and his wife on a flight together, and his 2-year-old and 6-year-old on a flight by themselves. He hasn’t been able to reach Southwest to cancel those arrangements. Not helping matters: Their luggage, filled with prescriptions and Christmas presents, is stuck in Ohio.

“We’ve not been able to call any line [for] customer service,” Galaska said. “It’s a dial tone. So I’m here looking for my bags right now. I’m disappointed just because it was Christmas. Right? It’s one of the busiest travel times of the year. We’re upset we’re not going to be able to go up and see our family for Christmas.”

Farooq Abraham pushed three large bags through baggage claim Tuesday.

“I’m very tired, very frustrated,” he said.

His family’s flight to return from Orlando was cancelled. After spending the night in a hotel, the connection flight was cancelled as well.

“They said you either you go there, we rebook for you, or you just cancel it and rebook from here,” Abraham said.

He rented a car and drove 17 hours with a 3-year-old and 6-year-old in the backseat — and no luggage. After leaving at 3 p.m. Monday, his family arrived in Dallas this morning and collected their bags from three different corners of the baggage claim section.

“Especially during the holiday time… nobody deserved to go through this situation, especially families with kids,” Abraham said. “It was hard, but we dealt with it.”

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association says that the blame for the dysfunction falls not on staffing but rather outdated technology requiring pilots and flights attendants to call a dispatch center.

“It’s a nightmare — it’s worse than we’ve ever seen it,” said Capt. Casey Murray, the association’s president. “We’re staffed correctly. It’s once something occurs, some type of disruption to the processes start to fail, the IT starts to fail and we end up exactly where we’re at.”

In internal and external messaging alike, Southwest CEO Bob Jordan has tried to explain the above to an aggravated public and an overworked employee roster.

But Murray says it’s a leadership problem, and that the Southwest staff itself is doing all it can to try and help passengers.

“We’ve seen this coming for many years because of the outdated technology, outdated processes, and this is where we end up,” Murray said. “It’s sad and, really, they need to be held to task in Dallas. We’re trying to get people back to where they’re supposed to be so they can start over. It’s going to take another couple days and possibly longer than that to really get the operation where it needs to be.”

The line for the baggage drop and help desk at the Southwest Airlines counter was also measured in hours Tuesday.

Lanita Canavan had time. Her flight to Baltimore was delayed three hours, but her travel group’s connection going on to Albany, New York, had already been cancelled.

“Our goal is to get on the East Coast, and we’ll try to figure it out from there,” she said. “We’re trying to be positive.”

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