Southwest Airlines has apologized for a recent horror run of cancelations and delays. After a disastrous weekend, the airline canceled scores of more flights earlier this week, including 90 on Tuesday. That may not seem like a lot, but it was enough to continue the chaos for many travelers.
“We extended our deepest apologies to Customers who have been impacted and look forward to welcoming them back on a future Southwest flight,” the Dallas-based airline said in a statement. It took to Twitter to apologize to its passengers too:
There’s a lot to say about what happened over the last several days, but we’ll start with the most important message: we’re sorry. Cancelling thousands of flights & displacing Customers isn’t what we want for you, nor is it what you should expect from us. https://t.co/NSBotfqdkm pic.twitter.com/pM9TINNq0Q
— Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) October 14, 2021
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Cascading problems at Southwest Airlines
Tuesday’s problems followed a terrible weekend for the airline, during which Southwest canceled 28% of their flights. The airline attributed the delays and cancelations to ATC issues and bad weather. Compounding the problem were displaced crews and aircraft from weather issues last week.
“On Friday evening, the airline ended the day with numerous cancellations, primarily created by weather and other external constraints, which left aircraft and Crews out of pre-planned positions to operate our schedule on Saturday,” the airline’s statement reads.
“Unfortunately, the out-of-place aircraft and continued strain on our Crew resources created additional cancelations across our point-to-point network that cascaded throughout the weekend and into Monday.”
Southwest Airlines says normal operations have since resumed. According to FlightAware, the airline had canceled 36 and delayed 559 flights on Wednesday. By Thursday, Southwest Airlines had dropped off the website’s watchlist.
These kinds of operational meltdowns are not exclusive to Southwest Airlines. Most major airlines in the US have experienced it at least once this year. Over three days in June, American Airlines canceled hundreds of flights due to maintenance and staffing issues.
Less than two months later, the American’s woes continued when it canceled more than 3,000 flights over two days, attributed to storms in Dallas.
The only major US-based airline that has escaped this kind of widespread meltdown this year is United. Arguably, that more good luck rather than anything else.
When deciding on somebody or something to blame, airlines usually point to weather. Bad weather, particularly thunderstorms, can be unpredictable and cause airlines problems. But many suggest there are structural problems at the US airlines that are the root causes.
Are there deeper problems at Southwest Airlines?
This week, Henry Harteveldt, an aviation analyst at Atmosphere Research Group, told National Public Radio that two structural problems are hindering Southwest Airlines.
Firstly, he says Southwest has scheduled too many flights, stretching the airline’s resources. He says when a problem occurs at one port, there is a “cascading effect” throughout the network. The point-to-point Southwest model also causes issues when external factors like bad weather impact.
Unlike competitors like Delta, United, and American, who all rely on the hub and spoke model, keeping resources like spare planes and crews at hub airports they can deploy during times of trouble, Southwest stretches its capabilities and back up resources very thin.
That saw problems like stranded crews and planes on the weekend, which resulted in that cascading effect.
Harteveldt also suggests some Southwest pilots who oppose compulsory COVID-19 vaccinations are engaging in a work slowdown – essentially, they are calling in sick. But the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association denies this.
“We can say with confidence that our pilots are not participating in any official or unofficial job actions,” the union told National Public Radio.
About the only thing passengers can count on is further problems down the track, whether at Southwest or another airline.
What do you think the causes of these spates of cancelations are? Post a comment and let us know.