The mass flight cancellations by Southwest Airlines are a “service meltdown” worse than any other “in recent memory,” according to airline travel specialists.
Southwest cancelled 2,509 flights Wednesday making up 62% of its flights for the day, and more than 2,300 Thursday flights have already been canceled. The airline cancelled 2,694 flights Tuesday and has cancelled over 11,000 flights since last Thursday, according to data from FlightAware.
It comes in the wake of Winter Storm Elliott, a historic blizzard that has killed an estimated 60 people and brought freezing temperatures across America. (RELATED: Ohio Christmas Day Crash Nearly Gets Fatal As Driver Smashes Into Patrol Car)
“The SW cancellations have come about mostly because of outdated scheduling technology. The scheduling technology investment has been neglected for years now. Throw in a complex point to point network and having humans try to keep up manually,” travel expert Lee Abbamonte told the Daily Caller.
“You can’t keep up manually with the outdated technology and size of the operation these days. All that exposed because of a combination of terrible weather hitting two of their biggest hub airports, employees calling in sick and understaffing,” Abbamonte added.
Abbamonte said it was “the worst single airline disaster I can recall in recent memory” and thinks it could result in additional oversight from the Transportation Department.
Edward Russell, editor of Airline Weekly, told the Daily Caller “Southwest has faced the perfect storm of weather, staffing issues, and technology. Weather last week resulted in flight cancellations for every airline; the situation was exacerbated at Southwest when it was short of ground staff in Denver; and then add Southwest’s unique way of schedule planes and crews (they strong together trips across the country in a line rather than out and back from a hub) and older scheduling system and the airline lost track of its planes and crews.”
Russell believes “this is one of the worst airline meltdowns in decades. It’s made worse based on Southwest’s sheer size,” but it does not reflect an industry wide challenge.
William J. McGee, Senior Fellow for Aviation and Travel at the American Economic Liberties Project said in a tweet thread “I’ve never seen a worse service meltdown than what Southwest passengers are currently undergoing,” in his 3.7 years of experience.
1/13 In 37.5 years of airline flight operations, airline journalism, & airline passenger advocacy, I’ve never seen a worse service meltdown than what Southwest passengers are currently undergoing. Let’s address—once and for all—how USDOT has failed us.https://t.co/lVRAVCR1PA
— William J. McGee (@WilliamJMcGee) December 28, 2022
“US airlines have made awful decisions scheduling flights (& collecting $) even when it’s apparent some fights won’t operate. And Secretary Buttigieg has logged dozens of media appearances promising airlines will do better. Result? Operations have exponentially gotten worse,” McGee added.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Tuesday Southwest’s “system really has completely melted down” and vowed “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.”
Southwest created a page on its website for customers experiencing travel disruptions to request a refund, rebook travel or report missing luggage. The airline also has a travel advisory in effect for customers to reschedule flights. It’s unclear if any affected travelers have been granted their requests.
“We’re focused on safely getting all of the pieces back into position to end this rolling struggle. You know, I have nothing but pride and respect for the efforts of the people of Southwest who are showing up in every way.” Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said in a Tuesday statement.
“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 added.
“The Southwest Team is working to accommodate Customers on available flights as soon as possible, and we apologize for the inconvenience to our Customers,” a Southwest spokesperson told the Daily Caller.
The spokesperson also directed the Daily Caller to Jordan’s statements and the company’s prior statements about the travel delays.