A rare snowstorm blanketed the Las Vegas Valley today, delaying flights, causing widespread fender-benders and leading to the cancellation of several events Image Credit: Reuters

Hundreds of thousands of passengers in the US were affected when Southwest Airlines cancelled more than 15,000 flights this holiday season. The freak winter storms affected most airlines in the country but Southwest was affected more than the others reportedly due to their inefficient booking and rescheduling systems in place.

While most airlines recovered within days from the winter storm, Southwest officials said they had little choice but to cancel most flights midweek because its systems couldn't handle the magnitude of resorting and rescheduling flights after such widespread delays and cancellations.

Southwest Airlines offered an olive branch on Tuesday to passengers affected by a meltdown last week: 25,000 bonus points.

"Our Purpose has always been to connect our Customers to what's important in their lives," said the email, signed by CEO Bob Jordan. "And this holiday season, as you made plans with us to do just that, we fell short. For that, please accept my personal apology."

White House 'is watching'

The airline said it sent the "gesture of goodwill" - the equivalent of more than $300 - to travelers whose flights were cancelled or significantly delayed between December 24 and Monday and didn't choose to rebook or travel.

The White House said Southwest "failed its customers" and added that the government would seek to fine the low-cost Texas-based airline if it does not appropriately reimburse customers for their losses.

Southwest said that during the New Year holiday weekend ending Sunday it operated 11,092 flights, or 99.1 per cent of scheduled flights. The airline said it intends that "nearly all baggage delayed during the recent holiday travel week to be shipped or delivered by midweek." Southwest had canceled 59, or just 1 per cent of its flights on Tuesday, according to FlightAware.

Passengers affected 

Some travelers missed out on long-planned trips and were still trying to find their luggage on Tuesday. Others had to scramble to find alternate tickets at high prices. Some drove long hours to get home after being stranded. The chaos drew the attention of lawmakers and the Department of Transportation, with officials pledging to hold the airline accountable.

On Friday, a passenger affected by the cancellations filed a lawsuit accusing the carrier of breach of contract. The suit, filed in New Orleans federal court, alleges Southwest did not provide passengers with other flights or quick refunds.

The airline did not comment on the lawsuit Tuesday, but in a statement said "several high priority efforts" were underway "to do right by our Customers"...

The lawsuit, filed by Eric F. Capdeville, of Marrero, La., says Capdeville had bought two tickets for flights on December 27 for himself and his daughter to fly from New Orleans to Portland, Ore., with a connection in Phoenix. Before departing, the lawsuit said, Capdeville learned his flight was among thousands canceled. He had no way to get to Portland, where his booked stay was nonrefundable, the lawsuit says.

Instead of another flight or a refund that might help him find other travel, Southwest offered him "a credit for use on a future flight," the lawsuit stated. According to the U.S. Transportation Department, customers who chose not to travel are entitled to a refund if their flight was canceled for any reason or if it had a "significant" delay or schedule change.

Southwest's tickets, however, include a contract of carriage in which the lawsuit says the company is required to either give passengers the choice of taking the next available flight at no additional charge or provide them with a refund.

"His flight was canceled and there were no alternative Southwest flights to accommodate him from the Trip's origin to his destination," the lawsuit said.

Refunds in process

The airline did not comment on the lawsuit Tuesday, but in a statement said "several high priority efforts" were underway "to do right by our Customers" including the processing of refunds for canceled flights and reimbursing passengers for expenses incurred. The company said it launched a website to help customers with refunds and compensation.

The airline said Tuesday that it sent the "gesture of goodwill" - the equivalent of more than $300 - to travellers whose flights were canceled or significantly delayed between December 24 and Monday and didn't choose to rebook or travel.

Zach Griff, a reporter for The Points Guy, said on Twitter that he received the offer in addition to a $39 refund, $149 reimbursement and $250 travel voucher. He later tweeted that the online portal to redeem the offer for the points had a waitlist.

"14 minutes to get in right now!" he wrote. "Nothing about this meltdown has been seamless. . ."