Southwest Cancellations Explained By an Airline Expert

  • Southwest continued to cancel thousands more flights on Tuesday and throughout the week.
  • According to experts, the airline is most vulnerable to a winter weather breakdown.
  • Problems were exacerbated by an obsolete scheduling system and unique flight networks.

Holiday travel can be a dangerous business continued to worsen this weekAs a wave of flight cancellationsPassengers were brutalized across the country. a brutal winter storm.

Photos and videos abandoned luggageTwitter was consumed by tired employees and cranky customers amid the chaos. nearly 5,000 canceled flights within the US on Tuesday.

The deadly winter stormThat whipped through the countryOver the weekend, thousands of travelers were disappointed with their holiday plans. But no airline was more affected than them. Southwestcanceled more than 60% its flights on Tuesday and Wednesday.

According to the report, cancellations by the company accounted for more that 50% of domestic cancellations on Tuesday. flight tracking website FlightAwareThis has resulted in an increase in furiously-stranded patrons.

Insider and other outlets heard from industry experts and airline analysts that the crisis was partially caused by Southwest’s outdated scheduling system as well as its unusual approach to mapping their flight network.

Southwest’s flight network structure is industry-standard

Nearly all major airlines use a “hub-and-spoke” network. This is where the planes of the company are centralized in one central location and fly to one or more locations before returning to their main airfield. Helane BeckerCowen’s airline analyst, a financial services and investment bank. Insider learned that Delta has major hubs at Atlanta, Detroit and Los Angeles, while United Airlines’ planes often fly into and out Newark, Chicago-O’Hare and Newark.

Becker described the approach as a bicycle tire with a hub at the center and several spokes leading to and from the center.

Henry Harteveldt explained that airlines can halt individual travel routes in poor weather using the “hub and spoke” method. The New York TimesTo have as little impact as possible.

Southwest operates a point-to-point network. This means that its aircraft rarely return to a central location. Instead, they fly from one place to the other. 

According to David Vernon, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein’s airline firm, the point-to–point system allows for greater plane usage during normal operations but can cause chaos in winter weather. The impact of dangerous weather conditions on “point to point” aircraft in multiple locations can have a cascading effect across the country. This is evident in the near-universal distribution of Southwest cancellations across the US this week. 

Becker stated that airlines operating on a “hub-and-spokes” model have the advantage of calling on their reservist crews when they need extra help.

In a statement to Insider, a spokesperson for Southwest acknowledged the company’s unique approach.

Chris Perry stated that Southwest is the only major carrier in 23 of the top 25 U.S. travel markets. “We aren’t a hub and spoke carrier. We have 30+ high-flight volume airports so our solution for normalizing the operation is very different from other carriers.”

Canceled Southwest Airlines flights show on a monitor at Hollywood Burbank Airport, Tuesday, Dec 27, 2022.

Southwest Airlines flights that were cancelled are displayed on a monitor located at Hollywood Burbank Airport Tuesday, December 27, 2022.

Photo by Hans Gutknecht/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images

Experts say that staff shortages and an outdated schedule system are also to blame.

The crisis has arisen amid tensions between Southwest management employees and Southwest employees over staffing shortages. Robert W. Mann Jr., a former airline executive, stated that the tensions are high. Pilots can only fly for eight hours in a 24-hour period, or up to 10 hours if there is a second pilot. Flight attendants have a 10-hour rest between flights.

Southwest’s current crisis has been exacerbated by the airline crew time regulations. Becker said that while they are necessary for safety, “People are running short of time” and end up stranded at airports and cities where they aren’t scheduled to work.

Further fuelling the problem is Southwest’s scheduling system. Becker suggested Southwest has underinvested its information technology over the past few years and is now suffering the consequences.  

While most airlines use an app to track employees’ locations in realtime, Southwest’s scheduling software assumes that employees are located based upon their flight assignments. As more delays and cancellations became more frequent, Southwest staff found themselves struggling to get to their destinations.

Becker said that they couldn’t get through to Becker when Becker called for reassignment or scheduling. 

Southwest spokesperson said that the company is focusing on technology upgrades to avoid similar problems in the future.

Perry explained to Insider that “our technology struggled with aligning our resources due the magnitude and scope of the disruptions.” “In our ideal state, we will have automation capable of handling Crew reassignments efficiently and quickly.”

Passengers wait in line to claim their baggage at Nashville International Airport after their flights on Southwest Airlines were cancelled in Nashville, Tennessee, on December 27, 2022.

After their Southwest Airlines flights were cancelled in Nashville, Tennessee on December 27, 2022, passengers waited in line to claim their baggage from Nashville International Airport.

Photo by SETH HERALD/AFP via Getty Images

The fiasco will have lasting consequences

Becker predicts that Southwest will continue cancelling flights days in advance and that the crisis will continue through the week. The company announced Tuesday that stranded passengers won’t be able to rebook their flights until Saturday, December 31

Becker stated that “the fact that they won’t take any reservations until next years, at this stage, means the effect is going to last until then.”

She said that it’s possible for the airline to have to fly empty planes across the country to pick up stranded crew members, and then bring them back to normal operations.

Southwest faces significant financial consequences the company prepares to reimburse and rebook passengersRescheduled flights, hotel, and vouchers for travel, as well as refunds.

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