The travel problems in the southwest will continue through Thursday

The US Department of Transportation is now investigating what happened to Southwest, which carries more passengers within the United States than any other airline.

DALLAS — Southwest Airlines said it expects to return to normal operations on Friday after cutting about two-thirds of its flight schedule in recent days, including canceling another 2,350 flights on Thursday.

Airline executives told staff that staff scheduling for this week – a major cause of the meltdown – has been fixed.

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

It can be assumed that far more than 1 million passengers will be affected. Southwest has canceled more than 13,000 flights since the meltdown began on Dec. 22. Its planes have 143 to 175 seats and were probably almost fully booked around the Christmas and New Year holidays.

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

Southwest’s cancellations totaled 58% of its schedule, slightly better than in previous days. The Dallas-based airline was responsible for more than 95% of all canceled flights in the United States as of Thursday.

Southwest has acknowledged that it has inadequate and outdated technology that can throw flight crews out of position in inclement weather. However, company executives told employees that the workforce scheduling issues have largely been resolved.

“Right now it looks like fairly smooth operations as we move towards this transition (Thursday) so that we can resume operations on Friday on our normal schedule, which is a big step up,” said Chief Operating Officer Andrew Watterson to staff on Wednesday via video night.

The airline has declined requests to provide executives for comment and has not provided an update on its operations on its website. His main public relations work consisted of releasing video statements from CEO Robert Jordan and his chief commercial officer.

Jordan is facing a crisis just 11 months after becoming CEO, replacing longtime leader Gary Kelly. When Jordan joined 35 years ago, Southwest had 88 aircraft and 7,000 employees. Now it has more than 700 aircraft and more than 60,000 employees.

Speaking to reporters a month ago at Southwest’s Dallas headquarters, a relaxed and joking Jordan spoke enthusiastically about the airline’s culture and customer service. He outlined five priorities, including upgrading the airline’s technology for scheduling pilots and flight attendants.

“I think the size and growth of the airline has outpaced the tools we have,” he said. “No fault of anyone – requires investment – and we’ll handle it all.”

Jordan didn’t provide a timeline or dollar figure for this investment, or explain why the airline hadn’t already done the work. But his comments about the airline’s archaic crew planning system seemed to foreshadow one of the root causes of the current meltdown — the inability to get pilots and flight attendants in position when there’s a disruption in operations.

“We have a lot of crews traveling all over the country,” he said at the time. “If they get reassigned — they have to go to a different city or flight than they thought they did, or they get reassigned to a new hotel — someone has to call them or basically follow them at the airport and tell them what they need to do . way looks.

“At our size and scale, that’s just not okay.”

The federal government is investigating what happened in the southwest.

southwest added a page to their website specifically for stranded travelers and prompted customers to submit receipts for unexpected expenses. The airline said it would consider reimbursement of “reasonable” expenses for meals, hotel rooms and alternative transportation incurred between December 24 and January 2. Consumer advocates criticized the use of the word “appropriate” as being too vague.

Thousands of customers were unable to reach the airline this week because Southwest’s phone system was overloaded. Pilots and flight attendants also reported hour-long waiting patterns.

Investors seem to think Southwest may finally be able to get a handle on the crisis. Shares of the company rose more than 3% in afternoon trade but remained down 8% on the week.

The airline hasn’t given an estimate of how much revenue it’s lost and how much additional costs it will incur — Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg and some members of Congress are demanding Southwest pay stranded travelers for hotel rooms, meals and replacement flights booked on other airlines .

A note on price: Southwest said a disruption in October 2021 cost it $75 million. This meltdown was far smaller, resulting in about 2,000 canceled flights over a four-day period. Then, as now, Southwest’s solution was to cut its schedule to stabilize operations.

Southwest has been the most profitable U.S. airline so far this year, posting $759 million in net income through September.

Raymond James airline analyst Savanthi Syth said Thursday that she still expects the company to post a small profit in the fourth quarter, but that some consumers are likely to book travel from Southwest to others over the next few months airlines will change. The travel problems in the southwest will continue through Thursday

Laura Coffey

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