It looks like the major winter storm that’s ruining Christmas for so many travelers is really impacting Southwest Airlines (SWA). Aviation insider @xjonnyc posted an employee memo with the subject line: State of Operational Emergency. It reads: “We have received an unusually high number of absences (sick call, RPAs, etc.) this afternoon / evening from our DEN Ramp Agent Employees. We have an obligation to our Customers and to our fellow Employees to safely and efficiently run our operation, due to the personnel shortage, I am declaring DEN in a State of Operational Emergency effective December 21, 2022 at 1345 MST.” RELATED: Southwest Airlines’ New Boarding Process Isn’t Going to Make Everyone Happy

You can read the memo below but the most shocking part is that it states: “Due to the emergency, we will direct Employees alleging illness to provide a doctor’s note on the first day returned to work indicating when the doctor was seen and confirming that the Employee was unable to work on the dates he claimed illness.” The directive also stated: “Given the emergency and the need to have a heightened verification of illness Telemedicine or Telehealth doctor notes will not be accepted to excuse an absence of illness during the State of Operational Emergency.


Jon followed up with, “There’s a rumor that 100 plus Southwest Rampers in Denver quit.”

Also this morning, a Southwest Airlines public relations team member confirmed to Fox News Denver affiliate FOX31 that they’re operating under a “State of Operational Emergency.” And according to FOX31, the PR person said: “The operational emergency you’re referencing are actually emergency sick procedures … when that occurs, it puts parameters in place—like requiring a doctor’s note when an Employee returns to work if they call in sick—so that we can ensure Reliability for our Customers by having the necessary amount of available, working staff.”

RELATED: Holiday Travel Chaos: What to Do in Weather Delays and Flight Cancellations

After doing some research on Twitter, it seems Southwest really is having a meltdown of unprecedented proportions. Check out this video Brandon L Richard posted on Twitter a few hours ago of the lines at the Southwest counter this morning at Denver International Airport.


The situation is so dire that a Southwest flight (WN2703) from Tampa on December 22 returned to Tampa after entering Oklahoma airspace supposedly because there weren’t enough ramp workers. Here are the details per FlightAware but the passengers went on a four-hour flight to nowhere, which is no fun.

If you look at Southwest Airlines’ Twitter handle or search the airline and Denver, you will see stories from all kinds of disgruntled passengers. Here are a few of the lowlights:

@BeamMeUpJohn: Epic fail #SouthwestAirlines tons of us stranded in Denver with cancelled flights. after waiting hours with no explanation they cancelled the flight didn’t return our luggage. Disabled, no help from Southwest Airlines. First time flyer. Never again!

@AviationStl: As someone who has spent the last  9 hours in the Denver airport, I am not surprised. I would do all you can not to fly thru here on southwest for the next few days.

@heyitscassidy: Has any Southwest Airlines customer been able to retrieve their baggage / luggage from the Denver Airport from Wednesday night? #Dia #denverairport #Southwest I was on flight 3215 to Columbus – which was deplaned after nearly 2 hours and have had NO update on my luggage.

@drowzykoala: @SouthwestAir Southwest at Denver is horrible. There are at least 40 ppl waiting inline and 1 worker. Everything is Delayed or Canceled last minute … where are all the workers???

@hollidayrdh: @SouthwestAir was on hold for 3 hours only to have the music stop and get disconnected. I have 3 kids stuck at Denver airport! Their canceled flight isn’t even showing up in their southwest app anymore. Totally losing faith in your airline and a year of canceled flights.

@sagitarryhoe: after almost 20 full hours in the Denver airport today, 2 different flight reservations with different airlines and 3 cancellations… we did not end up flying anywhere. Thank you Southwest and United for the complete cluster f*ck 🙃

Southwest Airlines was busy apologizing on Twitter (@SouthwestAir) too. Here’s one to @kristhesoundguy: We understand that once the wheels hit the ground, our Customers are also ready to hit the ground running. We truly regret the longer than usual wait for a gate upon your mother’s arrival in Denver. Please continue to hang in there w/ us and we’ll pull in ASAP!”

This storm brought ridiculously cold temperatures and high winds that no one should be working in and the fact that it’s over the Christmas holiday makes it even less appealing to go to work. I think Southwest made a huge mistake not being proactive and just canceling all flights to/from Denver so they wouldn’t receive all this ill will from their customers.

As many frequent travelers know, SWA arguably has the most loyal customers but one huge incident like this, which is preventing customers from spending Christmas with loved ones, is unforgettable and their policy to require a doctor’s note from their employees and stating a telemedicine note isn’t sufficient is inexcusable and reprehensible.

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2 Comments On "WARNING: Southwest Airlines Declares State of Emergency at Denver Airport"
  1. Teresa|

    I find it weird that your first sentence in this article blames the weather. Weather happens. It sucks. We all hate it. THIS ISNT THE WEATHER.

  2. Kathy|

    I’m in an LAX hotel right now – paid everything myself. I spent the last 20 hours wondering about my flight status. They eventually cancelled the flight last night and 400 people were waiting to talk to 2 agents there. They sent me to LAX by cab and asked me to fly out today, but I got notification that my new flight is cancelled again. Not sure what to do. They said they couldn’t reimburse for hotels? But if I get stuck here it’ll soon add up to be $1000+

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