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Southwest cancels thousands of flights, stranding passengers in the US

Southwest Airlines has stranded thousands of travelers at airports across the country after a winter storm swept through most of the US before and during the holiday weekend.

While Southwest canceled more than 2,600 of its flights on Tuesday, the problems are expected to continue well into this week. Flight Aware data indicating that the airline has already canceled more than 2,400 flights on Wednesday and more than 1,500 on Thursday. Southwest canceled nearly 3,000 flights on Monday. Other airlines with notable flight cancellations didn’t even come close to Southwest’s total, as Spirit canceled 83 flights on Tuesday, while Alaska Airlines canceled 75.

According to The New York Timesin contrast to the June 2021 computer network problems which delayed more than 1,500 flights and canceled hundreds, Southwest’s delays this week have a lot to do with the way the airline has set up its flights.

Southwest uses a “point-to-point” system where aircraft fly from destination to destination, picking up personnel along the way. Point-to-point systems have their advantages, as they can offer direct and cheaper flights due to the destinations they stop at usually have less air trafficbut flight schedules can quickly fall apart once a route is cancelled.

Other airlines, such as United, use one “hub and spoke” system that has aircraft that return to a central hub once their route is completed. This allows airlines to cancel flights to certain locations without affecting other routes, and access additional aircraft and flight crews without flying them in first; something Southwest can’t do without causing a domino effect of cancellations for its other flights.

Southwest expects to operate at “one-third” of its normal schedule for several days

Southwest spokesman Jay McVay told reporters that as a result of the storm, “We end up with flight crews and aircraft out of place, and not in the cities where they need to be for our operations to continue,” which was echoed. in a video released by CEO Bob Jordan (below).

WFAA-TV in Dallas, where Southwest is headquartered, spoke to Mark Duebner, a former director of aviation at Dallas Love Field. Duebner, who was driving to his destination because of a canceled flight, told the station that while Southwest’s system is normally very efficient without slack: “If the crew is not in the right place, because of another cancellation, connecting flights will be cancelled. be cancelled. It just goes down really fast. It’s the combination of a perfect storm if you like.”

Due to the massive cancellations, travelers are queuing at airports for two or more hours to rebook their new flights, which unfortunately won’t happen any time soon. A number of passengers report not getting any new flights until the end of this week or after new year, forcing them sleeping on airport floors while they wait.

Cancellations are scattered across the US, hitting major transit hubs such as Denver International Airport, Chicago Midway International and Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas. Ryan Green, Chief Commercial Officer of Southwest, tells the Wall Street Journal that the company will cover the costs of hotels, rental cars and other airline tickets, and inform customers that they are entitled to a refund if they do not wish to rebook their flights.

The disaster prompted a response from US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, who says he is following the situation “closely” and will make a statement on the matter tomorrow. The US Department of Transportation announced this on Monday sent a tweet, stating that it is “concerned about Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays and reports of a lack of prompt customer service” and that it will “investigate whether cancellations were manageable and whether Southwest is meeting its customer service plan.” Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) also known as Southwest to compensate passengers for the cancellations.

In a movie posted on the company’s websiteSouthwest CEO Bob Jordan says he reached out to Buttigieg on Tuesday to talk about what the airline was doing to help customers. He also apologized to travelers and employees, reiterating that the company’s “highly complex” network was struggling with large numbers of aircraft and crew being taken out of service. “After days of trying to get as much of our full schedule as possible over a busy holiday weekend, we’ve reached a decision point to significantly reduce our catch-up,” he said. You can view his full statement below.

In addition to cancellations due to the snow storm, Zuidwest is also experiencing a staff shortage at some locations. The airline declared a state of emergency at the Denver airport last week after receiving “an unusually high number of absences.” In a leaked memo to employees, Southwest Airlines says that employees will require a doctor’s note when they call in sick, and that it will use “mandatory overtime” to require employees to return to work or otherwise be laid off. As noted by the Denver mailSouthwest spokesman Chris Perry denied that the calls were part of a coordinated worker effort.

“We were fully staffed and prepared for the approaching holiday weekend as severe weather swept across the continent, where Southwest is the largest airline in 23 of the top 25 U.S. travel markets,” Southwest Airlines says in a statement. “As we continue to work to restore our operation, we have made the decision to continue operating on a more limited schedule for the next several days by flying about a third of our schedule.”

This isn’t the only other time Southwest has experienced major operational problems. Last October, the airline faced both staff shortages and severe weather conditions, causing Southwest to cancel nearly 3,000 flights in four days. Former at the time Southwest COO Mike Van de Ven told the employees that the company has “a very aggressive hiring plan” but it’s still not “where we want to be with staff.” Dallas business magazine reports that CEO Bob Jordan made similar statements during an Investor Day presentation earlier this month, saying the company’s systems would need to be upgraded as part of a major modernization drive to eventually operate 6,000 flights a day while simultaneously employing 100,000 people in to have service.

Update Tuesday, December 27, 7:18 PM ET: Added video of Southwest CEO Bob Jordan.

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