In what risks becoming a regular weekend event, another major United States-based airline experienced a significant spate of delays and cancelations over the weekend. Southwest Airlines has canceled 729 flights and delayed 3,813 flights since Friday. Competitor airlines Delta and American have recently experienced similar problems over different weekends.
Southwest Airlines cancels 729 flights last weekend, delays a further 3,813 flights
Breaking the data down, FlightAware reveals Southwest Airlines canceled 254 flights and delayed 1,575 flights on Friday. On Saturday, Southwest canceled 307 flights and delayed 1,440 flights. On Sunday, the airline canceled 168 flights and delayed 798 flights.
Southwest Airlines was blaming bad weather across the United States as the cause. Pointing to storms in Denver, Orlando, Chicago, and St. Louis, a Southwest Airlines spokesperson said;
“To proactively manage our operation, we implemented a scheduled reduction ahead of expected storms and probable air traffic control initiatives.”
Southwest’s weekend fiasco follows American Airlines experiencing a similar problem the previous weekend. American Airlines canceled hundreds of flights that weekend and delayed thousands more. Southwest itself was hit by a computer glitch last weekend that saw widespread disruption across its network.
Tens of thousands of irate passengers stranded
This weekend’s round of cancelations and delays left thousands of irate Southwest passengers stranded. Southwest’s social media was flooded with complaints from passengers.
“Hawaii was real fun but leaving Honolulu Airport is chaos,” said one passenger.
“You guys canceled my flights twice this weekend, so I’ve been living off sour patch watermelons and taking hobo baths in airport bathrooms,” wrote another.
Embattled Southwest employees did their best to manage the passenger discontent. By Monday, business was returning to normal, with only a minimal number of cancelations and delays.
Same… multiple flight rebookings and cancellations have made it really difficult to get where I’m going these days in an airline that up to this point had been super dependable. Guess its par for the course as staffing seems to be a major concern for them as well.
— Jason (@threefourteen) June 28, 2021
Staff shortages an emerging problem for airlines
Airlines are typically quick to blame external factors, such as weather. But a common theme of staff shortages is emerging. In 2020, airlines let thousands of employees go via early retirements and voluntary redundancies. The swift rebound in domestic travel demand in the United States this year has left airlines exposed and understaffed at peak periods or when higher than normal numbers of employees become unavailable for work.
While pilot shortages are an emerging problem for United States-based airlines, the high numbers of flight attendants calling in sick caused Southwest to implement its emergency sick call procedures on Friday.
“We simply cannot manage the operation with the number of sick calls we are taking and quickly using reserves,’‘ USAToday quotes Sonya Lacore, Southwest’s vice president of inflight operations saying in a memo to Southwest’s flight attendants last week.
Southwest Airlines was reluctant to acknowledge staff shortages were also behind the weekend’s cancelations and delays. The airline says enacting emergency sick call procedures isn’t unusual.
Hey @SouthwestAir so far this week you’ve rescheduled my Florida flight 2x then cancelled it now today you’ve changed my flight to BWI 3x! Get it together!
— 🥍ReLax!! (@Imbrogno) June 25, 2021
Long wait times further fuels passenger discontent
The staff shortages at airlines aren’t just on the planes. Another recurring problem is long wait times for phone inquiries, especially in times of high demand like last weekend. Airlines are keen to direct passengers to self-manage their flight online. But the inflexibility of online management tools is highlighted in peak demand times as apps prove unable to handle the specific needs of passengers caught by delays or cancelations.
“So weather only affects Southwest?” asked one person online. “Instead of tweeting at me, can you pick up the phone please … five hours 21 minutes.”
“On hold for two hours and 17min with @SouthwestAir trying to cancel a flight only to be told I can’t get a refund,” complained another stranded passenger.
As operations normalize at Southwest, the question is – which airline, and when, will the next round of cancelations impact? And if the skies are clear and sunny across the United States, will the weather still get the blame?