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Why Southwest is melting down

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CNN

A severe winter storm that threw several feet of snow across much of America led to widespread flight cancellations over the Christmas holidays. Unless you book a vacation trip with Southwest Airlines, air travel was more or less back to normal by Monday.

According to flight tracking website FlightAware, about 87% of canceled U.S. flights on Tuesday were in the Southwest. Southwest has canceled more than 2,500 flights. The next highest is Spirit Airlines at 83.

Southwest Airlines has warned it will continue to cancel flights until operations are back on track. The company’s CEO said this was the biggest disruption he’d seen in his career.The Biden administration is investigating.

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The Southwest was a combination of bad luck and bad planning.

The storm hit Chicago and Denver hard. The Southwest has her two largest hubs, Chicago Midway Airport and Denver International Airport.

Even worse: The so-called triple demic surged across America, storming in just as people and their families fell ill with Covid, the flu, and RSV. Southwest says it is well staffed for the holiday weekend, but the illness makes it difficult for it to adapt to the increased stress in the system. Many airlines do not have enough staff to recover if events such as bad weather cause delays or if crews use the maximum working hours allowed under federal safety regulations. is still lacking.

But Southwest (LUV) has also hurt itself with an aggressive schedule and underinvestment in its business.

Southwest Airlines’ schedule includes short flights with short durations, which has caused some problems, FlightAware spokesperson Kathleen Bangs told CNN.

“Those turnaround times keep things bogged down,” Bangs said.

Stuck customers were unable to reach Southwest Airlines’ customer service line to rebook flights or find lost luggage.

Employees also said they have not been in touch with the airline, the president of the union representing Southwest flight attendants told CNN on Monday.

Lyn Montgomery, president of TWU Local 556, told CNN’s Pamela Brown: “We are not sufficiently staffed to give flight attendants a rescheduling, which is creating a ripple effect and causing chaos across the country.”

The problems facing Southwest Airlines have been going on for a long time, said Capt. Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association.

“We’ve had these issues for the last 20 months,” he told CNN. “We’ve seen these kinds of meltdowns happen more regularly, and it’s really about outdated processes and outdated IT.”

He said airline operations haven’t changed much since the 1990s.

“It’s the phone, it’s the computer, it’s the processing power, it’s the programs that are used to connect us to the plane.

In a message to employees obtained by CNN, Southwest CEO Bob Jordan acknowledged many of Murray’s concerns and promised the company would invest in better systems.

“Part of what we struggle with is a lack of tools,” Jordan told employees. rice field.”

He said airlines are “committed and invested” in improving their systems, but “we need to be able to create solutions faster.”

The US Department of Transportation said it was investigating.

“USDOT is concerned by Southwest’s reports of unacceptable cancellation rates and delays and lack of prompt customer service.” murmured“The department will investigate whether the cancellation was controllable and whether Southwest is complying with its customer service plan.”

To recover, Jordan told The Wall Street Journal that he plans to operate just over a third of the schedule over the next few days to ensure his crew can get into position. rice field.

If all this is ringing a bell, it’s because this isn’t the first time Southwest service has collapsed in spectacular fashion.In October 2021, Southwest Airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights in four days. and suffered a loss of $75 million.

Southwest blamed a service meltdown on a combination of bad Florida weather, temporary problems with local air traffic control, and a lack of available staff to adapt to those problems. Even before thousands of flights were canceled and hundreds of thousands of passengers were stranded, it acknowledged service problems caused by understaffing.

As with the service turmoil this month, Southwest fared far worse than its competitors last October. Southwest Airlines canceled hundreds of flights in the days following his October peak of turmoil, but competitors quickly returned to normal service.

Later that month, in a call with Wall Street analysts, then-CEO Gary Kelly said the company had made adjustments to prevent similar meltdowns in the future.

Kelly said on October 21st: 2019 and is now more than halfway towards that goal. ”

And similar to the recent turmoil, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association claimed the cancellation was due to “poor planning by management.”

– Ross Levitt of CNN contributed to this report

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