A Look at Why Southwest Is in Such a Mess

Airline is operating only about a third of its schedule for the coming days
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 27, 2022 2:28 PM CST
Southwest Still Running Only a Third of Flights
Southwest Airlines passengers sit with their luggage in the check-in area during delays and cancellations at Laguardia Airport, Friday Dec. 23, 2022, in New York.   (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

On Monday, Southwest Airlines canceled a staggering 71% of its flights. Tuesday is pretty much the same—and Wednesday and Thursday likely won't be much better. The airline had scrapped about 62% of its flights on Tuesday and plans to keep the cuts in place through at least Thursday, reports the Wall Street Journal. Bad weather, of course, forced most airlines to cancel flights over the last week, but nothing on the scale of Southwest. So what's going on? Some explanations:

  • Location: The airline was particularly hard hit because two of its biggest hubs, Midway in Chicago and Denver International Airport, were slammed by the winter storm, per CNN.

  • Unprepared: Southwest also is accused of overbooking its holiday schedule and, in a double whammy, not having a sufficient workforce ready to handle the excess work caused by thousands of rebookings, per the Hill. The problems just kept compounding.
  • Outdated: In a memo to employees on Sunday, CEO Bob Jordan acknowledged that the airline needs to update its decades-old communications systems, notes the Hill. “Part of what we’re suffering [from] is a lack of tools," he wrote. "We’ve talked an awful lot about modernizing the operation, and the need to do that. And crew scheduling is one of the places that we need to invest in. We need to be able to produce solutions faster,” he said.
  • Union criticism: TWU Local 550, which represents flight dispatchers and meteorologists, tweeted the situation is "a direct result of the lack of investment and foresight by Southwest Airlines leadership." The "lack of vision for the future, long-needed overhauls of technology, and limited changes to the network are all compounding each other." And the president of the union representing Southwest pilots, Capt. Casey Murray, complained that the airline is still using scheduling software from the 1990s. "There is a lot of frustration because this is so preventable," said Murray. "The airline cannot connect crews to airplanes. I’m concerned about this weekend. I’m concerned about a month from now."
  • Bad percentage: Of the approximately 2,900 flight cancellations in the US on Tuesday, about 2,500 were by Southwest, reports the AP. Many passengers remain stranded at airports, struggling to reschedule. The Department of Transportation says it will investigate Southwest's customer service.
(More Southwest Airlines stories.)

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