Amid nationwide chaos, Southwest has canceled all its flights into Yampa Valley Regional Airport since Christmas

Dylan Anderson
Steamboat Pilot & Today
A Southwest Airlines plane sits on the tarmac at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport in November 2021. The airline has faced significant issues this week with thousands of canceled flights across the country, including those coming into Hayden.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Southwest Airlines has not landed a plane at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport since before Christmas, as incoming flights were nixed along with thousands of the carrier’s offerings across the country.

The cancelations will continue in Hayden because the airline has already scrapped six flights to and from the Yampa Valley on Wednesday, Dec. 28, and another three on Thursday, Dec. 29, according to FlightAware, a website that tracks flights across the country.

That comes after the airline canceled about 60% of its scheduled flights across the country on Tuesday, Dec. 27, and 70% of its flights on Monday, Dec. 26, according to the Associated Press. Southwest’s cancelations on Tuesday grounded more than 2,600 flights, per FlightAware.

Cancelations included eight flights locally on Monday and seven more Tuesday.

In a statement, Southwest Airlines called the cancelations over the holidays “unacceptable” and said the company’s “heartfelt apologies for this are just beginning.”

“We’re working with safety at the forefront to urgently address wide-scale disruption by rebalancing the airline and repositioning crews and our fleet,” the statement read.

FlightAware reported that Southwest preemptively canceled more than 60% of its flights on Wednesday and more than 20% on Thursday. Denver International Airport has seen the most cancelations of any airport with more than 170 Southwest flights scheduled to leave Denver on Tuesday never taking off. The swath of scrubbed flights has forced some passengers to have to sleep at the airport.

Airport Director Kevin Booth said the cancelations haven’t required any passengers in Northwest Colorado to sleep overnight at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport, as he and other airport officials have been able to find them local hotels, mostly in Craig.

“We’ve been doing really well as far as finding hotel rooms and getting people transportation,” Booth said. “There’s just a lot of people who aren’t coming in that we had hoped would be here and a lot of people have their departures delayed by cancelations.”

Booth said Christmastime is often busy at the airport, as thousands of people can pass through the terminal each day. The airport has stayed open later than normal in recent days to accommodate the delayed flights too, but Booth said that isn’t unusual.

“A couple nights ago, we kept it open with people here until about midnight because the plane arrived at 10:30 p.m.,” Booth said. “There’s all kinds of reasons that a flight can be late, but we do stay and keep staff as needed to make sure that we get that airplane in safely.”

While flights only go between Hayden and Denver for much of the year, the airport in Hayden ramps up for the winter with direct flights to and from 15 other destinations starting in December.

Southwest Airlines, which expanded to include the Yampa Valley Airport in 2020 and has helped the airport see record passengers since, flies directly to Denver, Dallas and Nashville.

In statements issued since Dec. 24, Southwest has blamed the mass cancelations on “extreme winter weather,” across the country. The weather hasn’t affected airlines evenly, though, as almost all domestic cancelations on Wednesday were for Southwest flights.

According to FlightAware, of the nearly 3,100 cancelations across the country on Tuesday, Southwest accounted for 2,600 of them. The next closest was Spirit Airlines with 91 flights canceled Tuesday.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Transportation said they were “concerned” about the rash of cancelations for Southwest and Tweeted on Monday that the agency would examine whether it was controllable.

The president of the union representing Southwest pilots, Capt. Casey Murray, reportedly told the Associated Press that cancelations can be blamed on decades-old flight scheduling software and management that has failed to fix it after previous meltdowns. Murray added that he was concerned about this weekend’s flights.

Booth said Southwest is aware of how the cancelations have hampered travelers coming into Steamboat Springs and Routt County, but he wasn’t sure when Southwest would touchdown again at the airport.

“I’m aware of what they’ve published as the reasons for the challenges,” Booth said. “That’s where we’re at — hoping that they can get back to normal here.”

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