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Friday, January 27, 2023
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Southwest Airlines Flight Cancellations Continue to Snowball

'We have some real work to do in making this right...'

(Headline USA) Southwest Airlines continues to slash about two-thirds of its daily schedule, canceling another 2,350 flights Thursday, though most of the planes that flew arrived on time.

Southwest is struggling to recover after being overwhelmed by a winter storm that left hundreds of pilots and flight attendants stranded out of position to operate flights.

Exhausted travelers sought passage by other means using different airlines, rental cars, or trains — or they’ve simply given up.

According to the FlightAware tracking service, more than 91% of all canceled flights in the U.S. early Wednesday were from Southwest, which has been unable to recover from ferocious winter storms that raked large swaths of the country over the weekend.

The operational systems of Southwest have been uniquely effected, so much so that the federal government is now investigating what happened at the Dallas carrier, which has frustrated its own flight and ground crews as well.

This week, with cancellations from other major airlines ranging from none to 2%, Southwest has canceled nearly 10,000 flights as of Wednesday and warned of thousands more Thursday and Friday, according to FlightAware.

In a video that Southwest posted late Tuesday, CEO Robert Jordan said Southwest would operate a reduced schedule for several days but hoped to be “back on track before next week.”

Jordan blamed the winter storm for snarling the airline’s “highly complex” network. He said Southwest’s tools for recovering from disruptions work “99% of the time, but clearly we need to double down” on upgrading systems to avoid a repeat of this week.

“We have some real work to do in making this right,” said Jordan, a 34-year Southwest veteran who became CEO in February. “For now, I want you to know that we are committed to that.”

Other airlines are back to full strength. Delta, American and United together canceled around 30 flights by late morning, according to tracker FlightAware.

Southwest’s cancellations amounted to 58% of its schedule, slightly better than in previous days. The Dallas carrier accounted for more than 95% of all canceled flights in the United States on Thursday.

About the only good news for Southwest passengers was that 98% of flights that took off managed to land within 15 minutes of schedule, meeting the government’s definition of an on-time arrival.

Southwest has acknowledged that it has inadequate and outdated technology that can leave flight crews out of position when bad weather strikes.

The airline has declined requests to make executives available for comment and did not provide an update about operations on its website. Its main public outreach has been to post video statements by CEO Robert Jordan and its chief commercial officer.

The federal government is investigating what happened at Southwest, which has canceled more than 13,000 flights since its meltdown began on Dec. 22.

Southwest added a page to its website specifically for stranded travelers, but thousands of customers were unable to reach the airline. It wasn’t just customers, either — pilots and flight attendants reported being on hold for hours.

Investors appear to think that Southwest might finally be getting a handle on the crisis. The company’s shares rose more than 3% , but they’re still down 8% for the week.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has faced criticism for his past absenteeism during times of crisis, said his agency would examine the causes of Southwest’s widespread cancellations and whether the airline was meeting its legal obligations to stranded customers.

“Because what we’re seeing right now, from the system and the flights themselves to the inability to reach anybody on a customer service phone line, it is just completely unacceptable,” Buttigieg told CBS early Wednesday.

In Congress, the Senate Commerce Committee also promised an investigation. Two Senate Democrats called on Southwest to provide “significant” compensation for stranded travelers, saying that the airline has the money because it plans to pay $428 million in dividends next month.

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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