LONDON – In what has been an extreme week of weather also brought along with it, one of the hardest moments in the entire lifetime of Southwest Airlines, with it being the worst-performing airline for flight delays and cancellations over the extreme weather period.
It is, however, not as simple the blame the weather, it seems that the issues the airline has faced this week go far beyond the realms of just bad weather problems, with many other U.S carriers seeing nowhere near the same level of disruption and cancellation.
Questions are now starting to be asked to the airline about what it plans to do moving forward, not only to repair the reputational damage it has received but also, how it can ensure this never happens again.
How Events Unfolded
Back on December 27, we published an article with an announcement from Southwest airlines saying that they would operate at one-third capacity for ‘Several days’, however, when the airline announced it was cancelling 2,900 flights, I am not sure anyone quite expected the level of disruption that would go on to follow.
Facing public criticism for the relatively high number of flight cancellations, as well as DOT scrutiny, Southwest Airlines has now released the following public statement”
“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.
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.
This safety-first work is intentional, ongoing, and necessary to return to normal reliability, one that minimizes last-minute inconveniences.
As we continue the work to recover our operation, we have made the decision to continue operating a reduced schedule by flying roughly one-third of our schedule for the next several days.
Read More: Southwest Airlines vows to “return to normal operations with minimal disruptions”
Leaked Memo To Staff Paints Worrying Picture
Despite the words used in the statement above, a leaked memo from the airline to its employees has painted a worrying problem for the carrier, which would suggest the cancellations and the number of them, was far higher than the competition and other carriers due to major staffing problems.
There were even reports of flight crew failing to “show up” during the week of disruption, however, no official comments or confirmation was released on this.
In the Twitter Feed above, you can See the full memo that was leaked to the Denver ramp agents and the apparent breaking of Labour laws by Southwest Airlines, which has left other employees and customers alike disappointed with the airline.
Congressman Adam Schiff Demands Answers
Now the airline is claiming their week of major disruption and cancellations is over, with services starting to return to ‘normal’, however, Congressman Adam Schiff has written a letter to the airline CEO Bob Jordan, requesting information on how the company will address the extraordinary disruptions to its services over the past week – including by financially compensating passengers whose travel plans were ruined.
On Wednesday, the New York Times posted that Southwest cancelled more than 2,500 flights, compared to less than 40 flights each by Delta, American, and United Airlines. Over the past week, Southwest cancelled more than 14,500 flights – more than 50 per cent of its normal services.
In the Letter, Congressman Adam Schiff said: “Many thousands of people have been stranded, had family plans disrupted, been negatively impacted by missing work, or been forced into dangerous situations trying to reach their final destinations.”
“There is no denying that a massive winter storm disrupted air travel across the country, but other airlines have been able to get back on track and rebook their customers. Not Southwest,”
“That’s unacceptable, and this type of situation must never happen again.”
“This has been an unmitigated nightmare for many of my constituents this holiday season. It has also cost families hundreds and thousands of dollars at a time when prices are still rising. Families and impacted individuals must be compensated, and we cannot afford to let this to happen again,”
The Congressman is demanding answers over the following issues:
- Financially compensating all affected passengers – including those who could not be rebooked, those who were forced to rebook flights with other airlines at inflated prices, and those who were forced to incur additional expenses for lodging, meals, and transportation;
- Upgrading its outdated technology and scheduling systems to prevent future mass disruptions; and
- Compensating Southwest workers who were overextended by extreme working conditions, unreasonable demands, and ruined plans.
Troubled Times Ahead For Southwest Airlines
It is unclear how the airline will not proceed to recover from the damage that it has received to its name, it is likely we will see a change in the upper management of the airline, as is the case in most times of increased pressure for airlines over matters such as this.
You cannot fully blame the CEO for all the issues that have taken place, as the congressman started, it is true that this period of extreme weather greatly affected and hurt the airline when it was in a weakened state with staff shortages affecting the whole industry, however, this doesn’t excuse the airlines apparent breaking of labour laws, and it won’t save them from compensation claims from passengers.
While we cannot be sure about what the next 3-5 months look like for the carrier, it is probably true to assume that they are not quite out of the cold yet, and they will certainly have difficult questions to be answered over this period.