Southwest Airlines is known for not assigning seats, but that could change in the future — maybe.
“Could we one day need to take back up the assigned-seating question? I think we may have to do that,” Bob Jordan, the airline’s incoming CEO recently said in a Southwest Business virtual town hall meeting, Travel Weekly reports.
Jordan, who previously was the airline’s executive vice president of corporate services and will take over as CEO on February 1, then took pains to note there are no current plans at Southwest to make the change. However, he did say the airline needs to examine whether or not seat assignments could positively impact aircraft turnaround time.
“Just know this: We are committed to continuing to look at our product, making sure it’s relevant,” Jordan said.
Southwest uses unassigned seats as a way to make itself stand out from competitors. Indeed, its slogan is “Pick a seat, any seat.”
“At Southwest, we let you sit where you like,” the airline explains. “We don’t assign seats on our flights, so feel free to sit in any available seat once you board the plane.”
In many respects, Jordan has his work cut out for him.
For instance, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s analysis, Southwest Airlines’ flights were ontime 83.03 percent of the time from July 2019 to July 2021. Conversely, 16.97 percent of Southwest’s flights were late or canceled.
“We need to get back to the point where you can set your watch by the reliability of our operations,” Jordan said.
Toward that end, one of the first priorities for Southwest this year is to hire between 8,000 and 10,000 workers. Jordan says that adding that staff will help the airline get aircraft back in the sky sooner.
Jordan also noted that Southwest expanded its service to 18 new markets and increased service to Hawaii during the COVID-19 pandemic. While Southwest currently uses 120 aircraft to support that expansion, it does have plans to take delivery of 114 aircraft this year.
Even so, it’s going to take a while for the airline to resume frequency levels Southwest experienced before the pandemic.
“It’s going to take into 2023 to restore the network completely back to where we were in 2019,” Jordan said.
(CNN) — Some members of a rowdy group shown dancing, drinking and vaping maskless aboard a flight to Cancun find themselves stranded in Mexico after their return flight to Canada was scrubbed and other airlines have declined to fly them home.
The group flew to Cancun from Montreal on December 30 aboard a Sunwing Airlines charter flight for a trip organized by “exclusive private group” 111 Private Club.
Video of the party on board, which shows passengers dancing and drinking in the aisles, has sparked outrage in Canada. An investigation by Transport Canada is underway, and passengers could face hefty fines or worse.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday he was “extremely frustrated” with the incident.
“It’s a slap in the face to see people putting themselves, putting their fellow citizens, putting airline workers at risk by being completely irresponsible,” Trudeau said at a briefing.
In a statement posted on Twitter on Thursday, event organizer and TripleOne president James William Awad said, “I understand why many fellow citizens are upset about the current situation.”
Awad said he chartered a private plane to “ensure everyone’s safety” and took the additional step of getting the passengers tested for Covid before they left Montreal.
Sunwing canceled their return flight, which was scheduled for January 5, because the group did not agree to terms it outlined, the airline said.
Air Canada and Air Transat have both said they will not fly the travelers home, citing the safety of other passengers and crew.
Return flight negotiations
Sunwing said in a statement that its decision to cancel the group’s flight back to Canada was “based on the group’s refusal to accept all terms and our security team’s assessment that non-compliance would be likely based on their previous disruptive onboard behavior.”
Sunwing said it could not provide specific details due to active investigations but said it had “developed a robust risk mitigation plan to return the passengers to Montreal while ensuring the health, safety and security of the crew and passengers.”
The airline launched its own investigation after the initial flight and notified Transport Canada, Sunwing said.
According to Awad’s statement, the sticking point in his negotiations with the airline about the return flight was in-flight meal service.
He said he agreed to no alcohol service on board, passengers boarding “in a sober condition” and a number of other terms.
“We couldn’t conclude an agreement because Sunwing refused to provide meals to the group for a five-hour flight,” Awad’s statement reads.
The airline said passengers’ behavior was “unruly and contravened several Canadian Aviation Regulations as well as public health regulations.”
The return flight was canceled to ensure the safety of crew and passengers, the airline said. It also noted that it will support Transport Canada’s investigation of the incident.
Awad said 111 Private Club is working to get all of the trip participants home “as quickly as we can.”
“This was my first travel event,” he said in his statement. “I have significantly learned, and I am still learning from this experience.”
Possible fines for passengers
Transport Canada said earlier this week that the department has been in contact with Sunwing and said that passengers could face fines of up to $5,000 Canadian dollars (about US$3,900) per offense.
The department also cautioned that any traveler convicted of providing false information to the government upon entry to Canada could face very steep fines or jail time.
On December 15, Canada issued an advisory to its citizens asking that they avoid all nonessential international travel.
Quebec closed schools, bars, casinos and other public venues and made teleworking mandatory on December 20 as Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations increased.
As of January 5, Canada had logged nearly 470,000 new cases of Covid-19 in the past 14 days, with nearly 180,000 in Quebec.
CLEVELAND (WJW) – COVID-19, combined with hundreds of cancellations nationwide, made for some tricky holiday travel for many airline passengers. Hundreds of U.S. flights were canceled and hundreds more delayed due to COVID-related staffing problems.
The foot traffic inside the terminal at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport was light for the evening of Christmas Eve. Some passengers we talked to say their travel experience was smooth sailing, while others say it was a little rocky.
“We were supposed to leave at 6:55, then 7:15, 7:51, now 8:51,” said passenger Sabrina Turner.
The Turner family was eager to board their Spirit flight to Orlando to spend Christmas with relatives.
“I just want to get to my grandparents, cousins, you know, just spend time with the family,” said Lanaya Turner.
“I’m just glad to be here because this is a good vacation time for us, so we’re just hoping and praying that we won’t get canceled or delayed or anything any further,” said Michael Turner.
Nationwide, airlines including United, Delta and JetBlue canceled a total of 600 U.S. flights, mainly due to staff coming down with or quarantining for COVID-19.
2,300 flights were canceled around the world and another 1,800 were delayed on Christmas Eve.
“A little concerned about cancellations, we were concerned about getting stuck in Florida, but we were fine,” said Jennifer Arian.
Friday evening, the schedule board at Hopkins Airport showed a few cancellations, all appearing to be United flights.
The Arian family says they weren’t as concerned about cancellations as they were making sure they all took precautions to avoid COVID.
“We took Allegiant and they were great and everything, in terms of sanitizing and making sure, you know, that the kids were safe and we were safe,” said Matt Arian.
“With COVID, yes, definitely concerned, but we were all wearing masks and vaccinated, so hopefully we took the necessary precautions,” added his wife, Jennifer.
Lufthansa Airlines cancelled a dozen Trans-Atlantic flights, but PJ Borojvic made it from Germany to Cleveland in time for the holidays.
“If you don’t have the vaccine, like documents, you can’t go inside, it’s really hard… I came here because I have family, I want to visit my family for the Christmas time and I took the PCR test. Even if you are vaccinated, you have to take the PCR test,” said Borojvic.
A spokesman tells FOX 8 the airport cannot say exactly how many flights were cancelled at Hopkins, but as always, they ask travelers to check with their airline before making their way to the airport.
(NewsNation Now) — Unruly passengers and brawls at airports across the country are forcing the TSA to crack down just in time for the holiday travel rush.
The TSA is warning if you step out of line, you will have to wait in line and even celebrities aren’t immune to the rule. NBA legend Dennis Rodman was greeted at the Fort Lauderdale airport by law enforcement after an airline flight crew complained that the basketball player kept pulling down his mask during the flight. Rodman was allowed to leave.
In Miami, two people were arrested after a brawl broke out between passengers and police at the Miami International Airport Monday night.
The shocking fight, which was caught on camera, happened in the middle of terminal H around 6:30 p.m. local time. Eyewitnesses told NewsNation that a passenger’s flight got delayed for at least 10 hours before it was then canceled. The passenger then got upset, taking the keys to an airport golf cart and refusing to give them back to an airport employee. Then chaos broke out as the passenger began arguing with police.
In the footage, an officer held a passenger in a headlock as more officers arrived to control the crowd and bystanders gathered around the scene. In the midst of the turmoil, it appears a police officer pulls out what appears to be a gun.
These are just the latest in a string of incidents in airports and aboard airplanes this year, some ending with passengers taped to their seats or zip tied, and some with them escorted off planes before they take off.
Just weeks ago, the TSA issued a stern warning to those who would behave disruptively or violently in airports across the country. Violence on planes has spiked in recent months, notably during the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent mask mandates.
This year alone, the Federal Aviation Administration has tallied at least 5,553 unruly passenger reports. Of those, 3.998 were mask-related incident reports.
Earlier this year, NewsNation followed flight attendants from Delta, American and Southwest Airlines as they were training to deal with unruly passengers. The self-defense class, offered by the TSA, teaches footwork, mechanics and a fighter’s mentality.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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Stedford adds that PIT’s security officers were recently trained to discern neurodivergent behaviours from security risks. “I’ve been working with a local university to develop training modules to train our entire team on how to recognise and approach someone with different needs,” she says.
Such needs can include stimming—or repetitive, self-stimulating behaviour—such as hand flapping, tapping or rocking, clearing the throat, and various other movements or vocalizations. Sarah Selvaggi Hernandez, an autistic occupational therapist, says that all staff should be trained to identify this behaviour as a sign of sensory overload.
“Sensory overload happens when the brain is processing too much sensory information at one time,” says Selvaggi Hernandez, which can lead to cardiac incidents, stroke, self-injurious behaviour, and other physical and mental health concerns if prolonged. She notes that stimming should be treated as a method of communication and attempts should not be made to stop it. Effectively training airport security personnel to understand how this behavior might point to a person’s needs is an important step toward de-escalating potentially traumatic events. Active listening and clear communication when requesting compliance can greatly reduce distress some neurodivergent travellers might feel.
Travel tips to consider
Neurodiversity training with travel staff promotes better care and understanding, but efforts should not end there. Selvaggi Henandez says creating new policies would help remove unnecessary barriers. “Sensory needs are real, neurological needs,” she says. “I see an opportunity for vast improvement in moving [toward] a support model.”
From ticketing challenges and confusing mobile airline apps to baggage check-in and security checks, navigating airports can present overwhelming and time-consuming challenges for neurodivergent travellers. Unexpected events, such as flight delays and overbooking, create additional disruptions. When other passengers become tense during these frustrating situations, it can add another layer of dysregulation for neurodivergent people who are often highly sensitive to other people’s emotions.
Before taking a trip, contact customer service teams at your chosen airline and destination with questions or requests that might improve your experience. Consider reviewing and printing relevant photos and instructions, roleplaying interactions, and developing or practicing social scripts to familiarise yourself with typical transit encounters.
People who have processing differences or get overwhelmed by the noise and action of transportation hubs can bring notecards to communicate their support needs. Another option is to print frequently used questions and responses if verbal interactions are difficult.
Although airport stressors can be overstimulating, exciting events or positive surprises can cause dysregulation too—and travellers should plan for how their bodies will respond to these experiences, says Selvaggi Hernandez. She recommends packing a scarf that can support a variety of needs: to create privacy, block smells or light, support temperature control, and provide gentle pressure when needed.
Selvaggi Henandez adds companies attempting to accommodate neurodivergent people should remember that even though autistic people share a general diagnosis, each person’s individual needs will vary. A recent National Geographic article on how national parks can be more autism-friendly generated lots of reader feedback, including from Lisa Kaufman, who writes, “I envision an access concierge,” she says. “They might be a jack of all trades, understanding a variety of situations that might benefit from a personalised approach.”
Stedford says that Pittsburgh’s airport relies on the input of an accessibility advisory group and consults universal design experts who encourage the company to surpass the standards set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act. “Making things better for people who have additional needs makes things better for everyone,” she says.
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Based on the noise and foot traffic at the baggage claim inside Palm Beach International Airport, it’s easy to see that travel has picked up recently.
“We are staying for 12 days,” said Torsten Stephen, who landed in South Florida on Monday.
Stephen and his wife flew in from Germany to visit their uncle in Palm Beach Gardens for the first time in more than two years.
“We went on Sunday morning and it was hard to get our results,” said Stephen, referring to getting a COVID-19 test.
Travel restrictions tightened on Monday for those entering the country, with concerns growing over Omicron. Inbound international travelers now need to test negative for COVID-19 within one day before entering the U.S. Before the new rules took effect, a negative test was needed within three days of their departure.
“The window for the 24 hours, it’s very close or it’s very short to get the PCR,” Stephen said.
The White House said the new testing rules apply to everyone “regardless of nationality or vaccination status” with the omicron variant now confirmed in more states.
“Every time we think that things are going back to normal it’s really not,” said Justin Wade, who flew into West Palm Beach from New York.
Wade said these new restrictions will likely cause disruptions, but he believes they’re necessary. He experienced the height of the pandemic living in Staten Island, New York.
“It was really strenuous,” said Wade. “It was scary. I have a few friends I actually lost from COVID.”
The administration said it is also taking another step to keep everyone safe by extending the requirement for all travelers to wear face masks inside airports and on airplanes through March 18, 2022.
For Wade, he said it may be a while before he travels overseas.
“If I do travel internationally, it would probably be like to the Caribbean, but I know for some of the hardest-hit places, it’s going to be awhile before I go out there,” said Wade.
AT least thirteen people have tested positive for the Omicron Covid variant after landing in Amsterdam on a flight from South Africa.
Dutch health authorities have confirmed 61 passengers are quarantining as they are infected with the coronavirus with at least 13 cases of the new super strain – but officials fear it is just the “tip of the iceberg”.
“The Omicron variant has so far been identified in 13 of the positive tests. The investigation has not yet been completed. The new variant may be found in more test samples,” the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) said in a statement.
The passengers were among 600 to arrive at Schiphol Airport on two KLM flights on Friday.
“It is not unlikely more cases will appear in the Netherlands,” Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said at a press conference in Rotterdam.
“This could possibly be the tip of the iceberg.”
The Dutch government banned all air travel from southern Africa early on Friday.
However, Mr de Jonge said passengers already en route to the Netherlands would be allowed into the country after undergoing testing and quarantine.
Passengers on the two KLM flights, from Cape Town and Johannesburg, said they were kept waiting on the tarmac for hours.
New York Times journalist Stephanie Nolen, a passenger on a flight from Johannesburg who later tested negative, reported a “huge queue” to see Covid testers.
The discovery of Omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, has sparked worries around the world that it could resist vaccinations and prolong the nearly two-year Covid pandemic.
Dutch health authorities are also seeking to contact and test some 5,000 other passengers who have travelled from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia or Zimbabwe since Monda
“Last night several Omicron-typical mutations were found in a traveller returning from South Africa,” tweeted Kai Klose.
The state is home to busy Frankfurt Airport.
EU health chiefs have warned the new mutation poses a “high to very high” risk to Europe.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control says there’s “considerable uncertainty related to the transmissibility, vaccine effectiveness, risk for reinfections and other properties of the Omicron variant.”
For weeks, officials have been forecasting a rise in the number of holiday travelers this year. On Friday, their predictions were proven correct — the Transportation Security Administration reported a record number of flyers since the pandemic began in early 2020.
“@TSA officers screened 2,242,956 people at airport security checkpoints nationwide yesterday, Friday, Nov. 19,” TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein tweeted Saturday morning. “It’s the highest checkpoint volume since passenger volume tanked in early 2020 as a result of the pandemic. The Thanksgiving travel period has begun! #MaskUp”
With Thanksgiving just days away, the number of travelers is expected to continue to climb. Last week, experts predicted holiday travel could be up as much as 80% over last year, when COVID-19 kept many people at home.
In 2020, the TSA screened around 1 million travelers per day in the week surrounding Thanksgiving. However, the agency saw a record number of travelers the year before. In fact, TSA reported its busiest travel day ever on December 1, 2019, with 2,870,764 people screened.
Also adding to this year’s holiday travel crunch — a November 22 deadline for all TSA workers to submit proof of COVID-19 vaccination or risk being fired. As of last month, the most recent month for which data is available, 40% of the agency’s employees had either not submitted the required paperwork or not been inoculated.
TSA Administrator David Pekoske has brushed off concerns of staffing shortages, telling “CBS Mornings” on Wednesday that the agency’s vaccination numbers have “improved greatly.” He said most passengers should expect to spend about 30 minutes going through security.
“If they’re a pre-check passenger, 10 minutes or less,” Pekoske told “CBS Mornings.”
“I don’t think they should expect chaos… We’re very confident that this is going to be a very smooth operation over the next several days,” he said.
Earlier this month, AAA said more than 53 million Americans were expected to travel over the holiday weekend, a sharp rebound in Thanksgiving travel that nearly matches pre-pandemic levels. Up to 90% of travelers are expected to drive, according to AAA.
Those planning to drive should hit the road Wednesday before noon or Thursday morning if they’re not traveling too far, AAA said.