“Today was a tough day, and tomorrow will probably be another tough one,” CEO Bob Jordan said in an interview Monday night. “This is the biggest event I have ever seen.”
A Southwest Airlines spokeswoman confirmed the airline’s current plan is to maintain the announced flight reductions through Thursday.According to FlightAware, the airline will operate on a shortened schedule on Tuesday. and about 62% of flights have been cancelled.
More than 2,800 Southwest Airlines scrapped flights Monday, among the major U.S. airlines, after it was found that Dallas-based Southwest Airlines was unable to stabilize operations during last week’s storm. was the best in From Thursday to Monday, airlines canceled about 8,000 flights, according to FlightAware data.
On Monday, the Department of Transportation called Southwest Airlines’ cancellation rate “disproportionate and unacceptable” and said it would look into whether cancellations are controllable and whether the airline is complying with its customer service plan.
Southwest Airlines chief commercial officer Ryan Green said in an interview that the company takes steps such as covering customers’ reasonable travel expenses, such as hotels, rental cars and tickets on other airlines. He also said customers whose flights are being canceled as the airline recovers are entitled to refunds if they choose not to travel. I got
Problems in the Southwest on Monday, despite generally improving weather conditions and rising temperatures across much of the eastern half of the country, which has been plagued by snow, winds and subzero temperatures in recent days. intensified.
Southwest executives spent most of the weekend, including Christmas, in meetings to resolve the issue, according to people familiar with the matter. However, their efforts failed to get the airline back on track.
A combination of operational challenges such as bad weather locations, Southwest Airlines’ flight route configuration, and a crew scheduling system that was overwhelmed and succumbed to change, according to managers and union leaders, caused problems. Occurred.
Social media was flooded with customer complaints and images of long lines. Some passengers said they waited days to pick up their checked bags or waited hours for assistance after their flights were cancelled. Others said they had trouble using the airline’s website.
Southwest Airlines on Monday called the disruption unacceptable and said it was trying to address it by “rebalancing the airline.” We apologized to our customers and employees.
“We were fully staffed and prepared for the upcoming holiday weekend when severe weather swept the continent,” the airline said. ” said the company.
Facilities management director Jonathan Bodow said the airline canceled two Southwest flights from two different airports within 24 hours. He decided not to bet on his third. He and his family left Kansas City, Missouri, on Monday afternoon and drove 19 hours back to Phoenix.
Bodow, who says he holds the top position in Southwest Airlines’ frequent-flyer program, says he subscribes to voicemail alerts from airlines and says airlines are usually very proactive, alerting them even if they’re five minutes late. says. “My phone didn’t ring him for two days,” he said, adding that his family’s four checked bags are still in St. Louis.
A Southwest Airlines spokeswoman said some flights were canceled after boarding due to lack of crew working hours.
Other airlines also ran rough in the bad weather.delta airlines Ltd.
About 20% of flights on Saturday and Sunday have been cancelled.Alaska Airlines Group Ltd.
canceled about 65% of its flights on Friday.spirit airlines Ltd.
On Sunday, we canceled 25% of our flights.
But other carriers didn’t have the same steady level of disruption. Some airlines saw cancellations fall on Monday, but Southwest Airlines’ tally rose, with more than half of U.S. flight cancellations on Sunday and almost three-quarters on Monday, according to FlightAware. occupies
“It sounds like a full-blown meltdown,” said Scott Nason, an aviation consultant and former operations officer at American Airlines Group. Ltd.
Duncan Dee, Former Chief Operating Officer of Air, said: Canada. “Trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together is not so easy.”
The Southwest, which had a large presence in Denver and Chicago, which were plagued by bone-chilling cold and winds, were affected early on. On Thursday night, the plane froze overnight in Denver and was out of service until noon Friday. Chicago’s Midway International Airport ran out of space for de-icing, dragging the airport down even as O’Hare International Airport began to recover.
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Management was optimistic about improvements heading into Christmas Eve, according to a message to employees on Friday. But new and unforeseen problems continued to emerge throughout the weekend, including fog in San Diego, fuel supplier shortages in Denver, and congestion caused by additional planes spending the night in Dallas, prompting airline reset efforts. weakened.
Unlike some rivals who fly intensively around central hubs, Southwest planes bounce around the country. Such an approach makes it harder to isolate the problem to parts of the country, making it harder to catch up when things start to go bad, and chaos can spill over.
Meanwhile, executives and union leaders said scheduling for pilots and flight attendants was disrupted when the system couldn’t keep up with the changes.
“We have crew stuck and scheduling doesn’t tell us where they are,” Casey Murray, head of the union representing Southwest pilots, said Sunday. When I didn’t assign a , I booked the hotel myself. Some flight attendants spent the night in cots in the crew lounge, according to the union.
Crew members relied on the phone system to receive flight assignments over the phone, and many waited hours for instructions before reaching the limit of hours they could work without breaks. The flight was canceled due to insufficient crew.
Chief operating officer Andrew Watterson told employees Sunday night that the company’s crew scheduling system is “unmatched for a situation of this magnitude.” Systems that automated crew scheduling were unable to handle the volume, he wrote, requiring manual workarounds that overwhelmed staff.
Watterson said in a Sunday evening message that “even if crews resume air travel, hundreds of flights requiring crews will depart today as the storm disrupted fleet and crew networks. I did,” he said. This meant that about 10% of the airline’s flights that started operating on Sunday were canceled, a number that continued to rise throughout the day.
CEO Jordan said in a message to employees on Sunday: And just trying to bring the network back to normal will leave the effects. ”
Jordan said outdated systems were partly to blame.
“Part of what we struggle with is the lack of tools,” he said on Sunday. The airline had already upgraded some of these systems.
During the pandemic, Southwest embarked on a massive expansion to 18 new cities. Like its competitors, the airline stumbled as travel demand rebounded rapidly in this past year and a half. But hiring has also grown, with current staffing levels exceeding his 2019 level and making a profit again. The airline announced earlier this month that it would undo its quarterly dividend early next year.
—Dawn Gilbertson contributed to this article.
Write to Alison Sider at [email protected].
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