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Southwest Airlines cancellations continue, luggage delayed

CHICAGO (NewsNation) —  U.S. airline Southwest canceled thousands more flights Thursday as most of the nation continues to recover from a deadly winter storm.

Flight tracking website FlightAware reported Southwest has removed another 2,300 flights for Thursday, trying to restore order to its mangled schedule after canceling over 2,500 flights on Wednesday.

More than 97% of all canceled flights in the U.S. early Thursday were from Southwest, according to FlightAware.

As cancellations rack up, pressure continues to grow on the federal government and the airline to help people get reimbursed.

On Wednesday, Southwest launched a self-service tool where customers can file for a refund if they had a flight impacted from Christmas Eve through Jan. 2.

Fliers can submit their receipts and the company said on its website, “We will honor reasonable requests for reimbursement for meals, hotel and alternate transportation.”

A number of factors play a role in the ongoing cancellations from Southwest other than weather, including the usage of an outdated scheduling system that dates back to the 1990s and its flight network that flies point to point, which can be efficient for planes but also can lead to massive ripple effects when flights get canceled.

Southwest Pilots Association President Capt. Casey Murray said the meltdown has been devastating for the frontline employees who are left dealing with upset travelers.

“We’re extremely sorry, to our customers who are stranded who’ve lost time who’ve lost, you know, memories with their family,” he said.

Murray acknowledged that scheduling and monitoring a major airline is a very complex process, but said it didn’t have to wind up the way it has for Southwest. He said employees have been warning about the possibility for years.

On Thursday morning, the Department of Transportation said it will continue to push Southwest to reimburse customers, and a Senate committee vowed to investigate what happened with all the cancellations.

California’s Attorney General Rob Bonta tweeted, saying “Lost bags, stranded passengers, impossible to reach customer service. This weekend’s travel chaos wasn’t just about the weather. Airlines have lost the trust of the customers they are meant to serve.”

Bonta called for more “accountability and transparency in the airline industry” amid all the chaos.

Other airlines are stepping up to help delayed travelers. Delta and American Airlines have capped last-minute fares to cities impacted by Southwest cancellations. The companies did not provide figures.

American Airlines tweeted, “We’re doing our part to help get people where they need to be and we’re putting a cap on fares for select cities.”

Spirit Airlines waived modification charges and fare differences through Jan. 3 to and from more than a dozen cities including Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, according to a travel advisory posted to its website.

The moves by rival carriers come after Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called on airlines to cap fares. “I’m encouraged to see several airlines have now committed to this step — all of them should,” he said.

From sleeping in the airport for multiple nights waiting for a flight to waiting days for their luggage to show up, fliers have shared their travel horror stories with NewsNation.

“I haven’t had clothes in one week. I’m sick. I had to lay on the floor and it’s just horrible,” Patricia, a passenger stranded in Austin, Texas, said.

Passengers luggage either didn’t make it to their destination or got stuck in a giant pile of luggage making it impossible to find. Some travelers told NewsNation that they had come back every day to the airport, spending hours in line just to try and find their bags.

“It’s been five days now, and we finally got a call saying it’s (luggage) finally arrived,” traveler Alex Luong said.

His family eventually found their luggage, but this is just one success story out of the ongoing chaos.

“I made a joke that I should get an Apple AirTag so I can track it myself and get a carry-on, too,” Luong said.

Southwest has a form online where travelers can report their lost luggage and it is launching a new page just for this situation. The airline said it will try and mail fliers’ bags back to them as well.

In the meantime, the DOT sent out a reminder to try not to put anything valuable in checked bags — such as medicine, keys or wallets — and to keep all those items in carry-ons.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.