Why is Southwest canceling flights? Expert weighs in as DMV customers deal with delays, lost baggage

Southwest Airlines has canceled thousands of flights over the past few days at DCA, IAD, BWI and airports across the country as people struggle to return home this holiday season. So, was weather really to blame, or is there more to the issue?

Southwest canceled 2,909 flights on Monday, which accounts for 71% of the 4,006 flights that were canceled across the country, according to flight tracker FlightAware. On Tuesday, an additional 2,678 flights were canceled by the airline. About 4,300 more flights for Wednesday and Thursday have already been canceled.

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Former TSA official Keith Jeffries says bad weather in recent days has certainly had an impact on delays and cancelations, but there's more to it.

"The employee scheduling system appears to have gone down which has created a lot of confusion," says Jeffries.

Keeping the skies safe is every airline's number one priority, Jeffries says, but he believes Southwest still has a PR nightmare on their hands.

"They could have done a better job of getting in front of this and communicating to the public," he says. "I've heard reports that passengers traveling had no idea what was going on, [they] didn't know when they could rebook their flight and all of those things. These are minor things that could have been corrected."

FOX 5 spoke to one Southwest passenger at BWI Airport who expressed her frustrations.

"I've traveled about 17 hours from Ft. Lauderdale to here because all of our flights have been delayed, delayed, delayed, canceled, delayed, delayed, delayed, standby, canceled, and now we're back here, and we're still missing, like, five pieces of luggage," says Dominique Walker.

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Jeffries says from a security standpoint, lost baggage that has been screened by security doesn't present much of a threat, and picking up the luggage that is rightfully yours is simply an honor system. 

Luggage has been piling up at BWI and airports across the country as passengers scramble to figure out where their bags are and how to get them.

The federal government has already said it would investigate why the company lagged so far behind other carriers. Jeffries says the main question is: what are we going to do to avoid this in the future?

"What do we need to know, and how come it took so long to get this information into the hands of the traveling public?" he says. "Communication is critical, and we need to make sure that information gets out into the hands of both the employees and the passengers to help de-escalate the stress that these delays have created at airports across the country." 

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Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan apologized to customers and crew in a video statement saying Southwest plans to "fly a reduced schedule" for the next few days, adding that the company is "optimistic" it will be back on track before next week.

So, what can we learn from this situation to benefit flyers in the future?

"You should have a contingency plan. What happens if your flight is canceled? What's your backup plan to get to your next destination?" says Jeffries. "Consider having the insurance as well associated with getting a refundable ticket. Make sure you read that fine print, and of course, most importantly, we've got to be patient."