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DIA to review how Southwest, United and Frontier handled recent issues

Denver International Airport said it will conduct a review with its three largest carriers to identify "challenges and successes" after the recent winter storm.

DENVER — Denver International Airport (DIA) said it will conduct a review with its three largest carriers – Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and Frontier Airlines – to answer six questions related to the recent winter storm and its aftermath:

  • What was supposed to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • Why did it happen?
  • What went well?
  • What did not go well?
  • What are we going to do next time?

DIA said extremely cold temperatures, snow and other factors last week led to numerous flight cancellations, disruptions and delays during the holiday travel season. Passengers continue to experience issues getting to their destinations and recovering their baggage.

DIA CEO Phillip Washington the airport has requested the airport's three major carriers participate in the review to document the findings and learn from the "challenges and successes" of the storm and following impacts. Input from other airline partners and vendors is encouraged.

The review will enable the airlines to capture details while they're still fresh, and DIA said it envisions all airlines and airports reviewing the findings to establish best practices for future major winter storm incidents.

“I believe it’s critically important that we seize the opportunity to learn from every incident. I have conducted AARs (after-action reviews) on a regular basis throughout both my military and transportation career,” Washington said. “Though airline accountability is imperative for this latest event, we want to determine why flight disruptions and delays happened and how we can improve the overall operations here at DEN going forward for the good of our flying passengers. In the meantime, we have asked the Denver Police Department to increase security around the baggage claim area until passengers can be reunited with their bags, and we are continuing to provide blankets, diapers and other amenities for stranded passengers.”

Southwest has been at the center of flight cancellations and delays at DIA and nationwide in recent days. Many airlines were forced to cancel flights due to the weather, but Southwest was by far the leader in canceled flights.

Southwest's CEO Robert Jordan on Tuesday apologized to passengers and employees for the "unacceptable" situation. In a video that Southwest posted late Tuesday, Jordan said Southwest hoped to be "back on track before next week.”

Jordan blamed the winter storm for snarling the airline’s “highly complex” network. He said Southwest's tools for recovering from disruptions work “99% of the time, but clearly we need to double down" on upgrading systems to avoid a repeat of this week.

“We have some real work to do in making this right,” said Jordan, a 34-year Southwest veteran who became CEO in February. “For now, I want you to know that we are committed to that.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has criticized airlines for previous disruptions, said his agency would examine the causes of Southwest's widespread cancellations and whether the airline was meeting its legal obligations to stranded customers.

“While we all understand that you can't control the weather, this has clearly crossed the line from what is an uncontrollable weather situation to something that is the airline's direct responsibility,” Buttigieg told “NBC Nightly News.”

He said Southwest should at least pay cash refunds for canceled flights and cover stranded passengers' hotel and meal costs. On Twitter, he urged other airlines to cap fares on impacted routes.

In Congress, the Senate Commerce Committee also promised an investigation. Two Senate Democrats called on Southwest to provide “significant” compensation for stranded travelers, saying that the airline has the money because it plans to pay $428 million in dividends next month.

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