Southwest Resumes Normal Flight Schedule After Mass Cancellations Stranded Travelers

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  It's been more than a week since the unprecedented meltdown that left passengers stranded and sparked by regulators began on Friday.

The Dallas-based airline more than doubled its size overnight, jumping from 1,600 flights on Thursday to about 4,000 on Friday. The expanded schedule was an important test of how well Southwest has bounced back after the winter storms and subsequent operational problems forced him to cancel nearly 16,000 flights.

Management said on Thursday they believed the airline was up to the task.

“We are ready and ready to do it with minimal disruption,” Chief Executive Bob Jordan said on a conference call with reporters earlier in the day. told employees, “I’m confident, but I’m also cautious.”

As of 2pm ET, Southwest Airlines has canceled 43 flights on Friday. That’s well below the roughly 2,500 flights airlines canceled in the first few days of the week. Most of them had been cut earlier in the week. About 140 flights were canceled across airlines flying to, from, or within the United States on Friday, according to FlightAware.

A winter storm that blew much of the country in extreme cold, snow, wind and ice disrupted many airline flights for days before Christmas. Southwest Airlines’ operations continue to deteriorate as rival airlines recover, with the airline slashing its three-day schedule this week in an effort to stabilize operations and keep planes and crew in the right places. Did.

In Phoenix, where Southwest Airlines has a large presence, after 4 a.m. local time, wait times at airline gate security were already 10 minutes and growing. Earlier in the week, the queue was non-existent as Southwest cut flights to get back on track.

Southwest Airlines Flight 3579 left for Denver just after 5am and was less than half full. The chief flight attendant repeatedly said he was grateful to the airline for letting passengers board as it resumed its normal schedule. .

“Obviously, I appreciate it more today than ever before,” he said. “We are back.”

Southwest Airlines management attributes the airline’s struggles to the extent and intensity of the storm, with many of the company’s crew based in Denver and Chicago, where Southwest operates. It affected dozens of cities.

With so many people and planes out of position last weekend, the scheduling system Southwest uses to reconstruct crew schedules after storms and other events has been hampered by the amount of changes needed. Executives said they were overwhelmed. As such, airline staff had to manually try to match planes with available crew members. This has been described by executives and union officials as an inefficient and laborious process.

As it works to resume normal operations, Southwest Airlines faces intense scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers who said they are closely monitoring the airline’s response to the crisis.

Southwest chief operating officer Andrew Watterson acknowledged to staff in a note late Thursday that Friday was “important,” especially as they head into another holiday weekend.

Southwest Airlines has canceled nearly 16,000 flights since December 22nd. This is because customers have arrived at their destination and are having trouble finding their lost luggage. The airline said the shortened schedule would be extended until at least Thursday. Photo: Albuquerque Journal/Zuma Press

“We started off fragile today, so I hope it works. But we don’t know how it will go,” said Southwest Aviation Pilots Association president Casey Murray.

Kelsey and Chris Pearson said they were thrilled to return home Friday morning on Southwest Airlines Flight 4454 from Denver to San Diego. They said they spent an extra week in Minnesota due to two Southwest Airlines cancellations on Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas.

“Before I woke up this morning, I had a nightmare that my flight was canceled,” said Kelsey Pearson. Chris Pearson says the ordeal kicked off his new hobby. That is to check the plane on his FlightAware flight tracking site.

Forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Weather Prediction Center said temperatures are likely to be warmer this weekend compared to the Arctic blast that hit the country last weekend. Rainfall could shift from west to east, with more severe weather likely in the south early next week.

Airlines say they are already working to upgrade some of their technology and may accelerate some of those investments, but executives say last week’s storm was unique. They say Southwest’s system can weather more typical disruptions.

Southwest stocks fell 0.4% in afternoon trading, while major U.S. stock indexes fell about 1%.

Southwest continued to grapple with the blow to its reputation among customers and some employees as it bounced back on Friday. In the JD Power North American Airline Satisfaction Survey, the airline ranked highest in customer satisfaction in the Economy/Basic Economy category.

“We pride ourselves on providing a high level of customer service and doing the right thing for our customers, but we clearly fall short here,” said Southwest’s chief commercial officer. said Ryan Green on Thursday.

Southwest Airlines has also promised to issue refunds to affected travelers, but gave few details. It said it could take weeks to process customer payments.

The airline has yet to tally the total costs, but Jordan said the financial impact from the meltdown is likely to be substantial.

Erika Cada booked a flight from Phoenix to Omaha on Friday months ago. Kada said she and her two children flew safely on a Southwest flight to Phoenix on Christmas morning.

“We’ve been waiting, but today is the day they decided to get back on track,” she said.

Fix and Amplify
Southwest Airlines canceled 39 flights scheduled for Friday this week and was scheduled to operate about 4,000 flights on Friday. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Southwest Airlines had canceled Thursday and planned to operate about 4,100 flights on Friday. And Southwest passenger Erica Kada was traveling with her children on Friday, with previous versions erroneously stating she was traveling with her grandchildren. (Corrected on December 30)

Write to Alison Sider at [email protected] and to Dawn Gilbertson at [email protected].

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