The Christmas 2022 Southwest Airlines meltdown that has been ongoing since December 23 is not easy to dissect. The company’s CEO, Bob Jordan said this has been the biggest disruption he’s seen in his career. In a statement, Jordan said his company needs to: “upgrade systems for these extreme circumstances so that we never again face what’s happening right now.” The Biden administration is investigating.
Several factors contributed to the massive cancellations by the airline: an historic winter storm hit; a hattrick of illness (being referred to by many as the tripledemic brought cases of Covid, the flu and RSV across the U. S.), left companies unable to keep up with sick calls and impacted the staffing of the airline; and antiquated IT systems for crew scheduling and tracking could not keep up with locations of crew, equipment as well as duty time regulations and rest requirements.
Other airlines were impacted but none so greatly as Southwest, whose two hubs Denver and Baltimore were among the most hard hit areas for the storm. “Southwest is the largest carrier in the country, not only because of our value and our values, but because we build our flight schedule around communities, not hubs. So, we’re the largest airline in 23 of the top 25 travel markets in the U.S.,” said Jordan in his video statement. “Cities where large numbers of scheduled flights simultaneously froze as record bitter cold brought challenges for all airlines.Our network is highly complex and the operation of the airline counts on all the pieces, especially aircraft and crews remaining in motion to where they’re planned to go. With our large fleet of airplanes and flight crews out of position in dozens of locations. And after days of trying to operate as much of our full schedule across the busy holiday weekend, we reached a decision point to significantly reduce our flying to catch up.”
Jordan went on to say they their systems work 99% of the time but in this 1% situation they were not adequate. He said that he had reached out to Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg. Buttigieg appeared on CNN saying he had spoken to Jordan. He added: “Their system really has completely melted down. I made clear that our department will be holding them accountable for their responsibilities to customers, both to get them through this situation and to make sure that this can’t happen again.”
The Department of Transportation said those responsibilities include providing meal vouchers and hotel accommodations for passengers whose flights were disrupted “as a result of Southwest’s decisions and actions,” a spokesperson at DOT said on Tuesday.
“Teams are working on all of that: processing refunds, proactively reaching out and taking care of Customers who are dealing with costly detours and reroutes, as just a few examples. Our plan for the next few days is to fly a reduced schedule and reposition our people and planes, and we’re making headway and we’re optimistic to be back on track before next week,” Jordan stressed.
Experts have said it will take weeks for the company to recover back to normal operations and the meltdown will run into the tens of millions in lost revenue for the company.