After the winter storm hit many parts of the country, most airlines quickly recovered from delays and cancellations. But not Southwest Airlines, which days later continues to be grappling with what executives and analysts describe because the worst operational meltdown in its fifty-year history.
The bad weather that arrived a couple of days before Christmas hit airlines greater than the remaining of the industry attributable to inadequate computer systems that made it difficult for airlines to bring crews to waiting planes and place passengers on alternate flights, and the flight model which allowed cascade of problems from one airport to a different.
“This is the worst round of cancellations for any airline that I can remember in my greater than 20-year profession as an industry analyst,” said Henry Harteveldt, who covers airlines for Atmosphere Research Group.
Thousands of travelers were stranded at airports, with many saying Southwest had done little or nothing to succeed in their destinations. Southwest canceled greater than 2,900 flights on Monday; scrapped about 2,500 a day for the subsequent two days, greater than 60 percent of its schedule; and said it could take several days to completely return to normal.
Fabian Maldonado, a Los Angeles-based construction manager who describes himself as a loyal Southwest customer, said he and his two sons flew from Burbank to Sacramento on a Southwest flight on Monday, planning to fly from there to Spokane, Washington. was canceled and Southwest didn’t notify him, he said.
“It really forces me to rethink them,” said Maldonado. “Customer service is non-existent; is falling apart.”
In a press release, Southwest said its results were “unacceptable” and apologized to its customers. The airline, which refused to make its executives available for interviews, said it was unable to get flight crews to where they ought to be, compounding the consequences of bad weather.
“Our biggest concern straight away is getting our crews and aircraft in the fitting places,” Chris Perry, a spokesman for Southwest, said in an email.
To restore the conventional system, the airline requires some employees to work time beyond regulation and has banned them from taking day without work without submitting a medical certificate, in accordance with a memo sent to employees in Denver obtained by The New York Times.
Department of Transport – it was written in Monday’s statement that it might look into the issues at Southwest, adding that it was concerned concerning the airline’s “unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays” and reports of poor customer support. On Tuesday, President Biden retweeted this statement on Twitter and urged customers to examine in the event that they are eligible for compensation.
All airlines have been under fire from lawmakers and regulators for delays and cancellations since demand for travel returned after the 2021 pandemic. Much of the industry’s woes may be attributed to staff shortages, which were caused partly by early retirements and buyouts offered by the post-pandemic workforce. ticket sales collapse in 2020.
Lyn Montgomery, chairwoman of Transport Workers Union Local 556, which represents Southwest Airlines flight attendants, said she spoke to Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, on Tuesday to debate the Southwest outage. She said Southwest’s tech was the basis reason for the meltdown and that her union had long been pressuring company leaders to enhance it.
“We will be certain Southwest Airlines’ management is held accountable for what is happening in order that an airline that we’ve helped to succeed will likely be reliable and stable again,” Ms Montgomery said in an interview.
Mr Buttigieg said in a Tuesday statement that he also spoke with Southwest chief executive Bob Jordan.
Southwest was the primary major airline to point out a profit because the pandemic began to subside. And in some ways it turned out to be a giant winner as people began flying again and taking holidays.
However, analysts say problems lurked in Southwest’s operations – problems that apparently led to the corporate’s demise when bad weather set in late last week.
The storm, aviation experts say, has had a disproportionate impact on Southwest because the corporate configures its route network otherwise than three other major airlines within the country – American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines – configure theirs.
Most carriers operate on a knot-and-spoke basis, with planes returning to a connecting airport after departing to other cities – United, for instance, has connecting flights at airports serving Newark, Houston and Denver. While Southwest has a big presence at some airports, it uses a point-to-point approach where planes fly from destination to destination without returning to 1 or two major hubs.
Hub-and-spoke airlines can close certain routes within the event of bad weather, and with good planning, corporations can have crews and aircraft available to resume operations when conditions improve. But Southwest cannot do this easily without disrupting multiple flights and routes, Harteveldt said.
David Vernon, an airline analyst at Bernstein Research, said Southwest’s approach allows the corporate to make more use of its aircraft during normal times, but when things go incorrect, problems can spread quickly.
Of course, hub-and-spoke airlines can and have had big problems, especially when bad weather or other issues paralyze operations at a number of major hub airports.
Southwest, which has long prided itself on a superb working relationship with its employees, has also recently been affected by staff shortages that likely increased tensions between management and employees, said Robert W. Mann Jr., a former airline executive who now heads the consulting firm. R. W. Mann & Company.
“The Southwest has clearly had the worst of it,” Mann said. “I even have to think it was more cultural than the rest.”
The turmoil is a test for Mr. Jordan, a longtime Southwest official who took over as chief executive in February. The company’s shares closed up about 6 percent on Tuesday.
Union leaders said the basis reason for Southwest’s problems was inadequate computer systems, which they said were unable to successfully match crews to flights as cancellations began to pile up. “They made a commitment to us to spend money and time on infrastructure, however it wasn’t enough,” said Ms Montgomery, the leader of the union. “The house of cards has collapsed.”
Analysts also said Southwest was slow to introduce recent systems that will help it run its business. “Southwest has never seen technology as a strategic priority” Mr. Harteveldt said.
These failures and others are expected to draw the eye of officials in Washington, where lawmakers akin to Senator Maria Cantwell, who heads the Commerce Committee, called on Tuesday for stronger protections for travelers, including federal rules that require airlines to reimburse for delayed flights. or canceled flights. flights.
Worse for purchasers: Southwest has a no-exchange policy, so the corporate cannot rebook passengers on other flights, Harteveldt said. He said a disaster could force the airline to “buy back” frustrated customers with more discounts or run more promotions.
No region or airport felt the brunt of cancellations, although airports with a big presence within the South West were the toughest hit. Among these airports were Denver International, Chicago Midway, Harry Reid International in Las Vegas, and Sacramento International.
It’s been almost every week because the winter storm began wreaking havoc on hundreds of thousands of travelers. The variety of canceled flights began to rise on Thursday, with airlines canceling greater than 2,600 of them. The next day, nearly 6,000, or a couple of quarter of all U.S. flights, were canceled nationwide. On Saturday, almost 3,500 flights were canceled on Christmas Eve, and barely fewer, around 3,200, were faraway from the Christmas timetables.
The report was contributed by Derrick Bryson Taylor, Daniel Victor, Shawn Hubler, Mark Walker and Steve Lohr.