Not long ago, one of the most reliable carriers, Southwest has fallen into a nightmarish situation and, over the holidays, was forced to cancel thousands of flights, which has now prompted the federal Department of Transportation to conduct a review.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, published late Monday, Southwest's CEO Bob Jordan admitted that a combo of bad weather and poor staffing combined to force the carrier to cancel nearly 3,000 flights.
"In all likelihood, we'll have another tough day tomorrow as we work our way out of this." He added: "This is the largest-scale event that I've ever seen."
The outlet added:
Southwest plans to operate just over one-third of its typical schedule in the coming days to give itself leeway for crews to get into the right positions, he said, adding that the reduced schedule could be extended.
A Southwest spokeswoman confirmed that the airline’s current plan is to keep its announced flight cuts in place through Thursday. The airline was operating its reduced schedule Tuesday, with about 62% of its flights canceled, according to FlightAware.
Southwest's cancellation of more than 2,800 flights on Monday was the highest of any major American airline, proving that the Dallas-based carrier was not able to adequately stabilize its operations over the previous days when a massive cold front and storm brought unseasonably cold temperatures to most of the country's midsection. Between Thursday and Monday, Southwest was forced to cancel roughly 8,000 flights, according to FlightAware data.
The large number of cancellations prompted a response from the DOT, which called them "disproportionate and unacceptable." The federal agency added that officials would take a look to see if the cancellations were controllable and whether or not the carrier has been complying with its own customer service policies.
USDOT is concerned by Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays & reports of lack of prompt customer service. The Department will examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan.
— TransportationGov (@USDOT) December 27, 2022
"Ryan Green, Southwest’s chief commercial officer, said in an interview the airline is taking steps such as covering customers’ reasonable travel costs—including hotels, rental cars and tickets on other airlines, and will be communicating the process for customers to have expenses reimbursed," the WSJ reported. "He also said customers whose flights are being canceled as the airline recovers are entitled to refunds if they opt not to travel."
The outlet noted that over the weekend, several top Southwest officials frequently met in an attempt to work through the issues and problems as the Christmas holiday unfolded, but were unable to effectively relaunch operations by Monday, even as the weather improved around the country and temperatures rose somewhat.
The airline has since released a statement regarding the ongoing travel woes: "With consecutive days of extreme winter weather across our network behind us, continuing challenges are impacting our Customers and Employees in a significant way that is unacceptable."
"And our heartfelt apologies for this are just beginning. We’re working with Safety at the forefront to urgently address wide-scale disruption by rebalancing the airline and repositioning Crews and our fleet ultimately to best serve all who plan to travel with us," the statement continued.
"We were fully staffed and prepared for the approaching holiday weekend when the severe weather swept across the continent, where Southwest is the largest carrier in 23 of the top 25 travel markets in the U.S. These operational conditions forced daily changes to our flight schedule at a volume and magnitude that still has the tools our teams use to recover the airline operating at capacity," the airline explained.
"On the other side of this, we’ll work to make things right for those we’ve let down, including our Employees," the airline pledged.
As bad as Southwest may have screwed up, it is in the airline's best economic interests to get things back on track; having Biden's DOT stick its nose in the middle of this isn't going to help.