LONDON – After several days of operations on a limited schedule of approximately one-third normal capacity, Southwest Airlines is to return to normal operations today, Friday December 30.
Normal operations resumption
In a statement issued yesterday, the airline cites a return to “normal operations with minimal disruptions, saying:
“While Southwest continues to operate roughly one third of its schedule for Thursday, Dec. 29, we plan to return to normal operations with minimal disruptions on Friday, Dec. 30.”
“We are encouraged by the progress we’ve made to realign Crew, their schedules, and our fleet. With another holiday weekend full of important connections for our valued Customers and Employees, we are eager to return to a state of normalcy.”
“We know even our deepest apologies – to our Customers, to our Employees, and to all affected through this disruption – only go so far.”
After a horror Christmas period which saw thousands of flights cancelled by the carrier, and thousands of disgruntled passengers stranded, Southwest CEO Bob Jordan issued a video statement in which he voiced apologies on behalf of the airline and provided an update to customers.
The inordinate number of flight cancellations and the attendant complaints of poor customer service prompted the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to weigh in.
On Thursday Secretary Pete Buttigieg further stated the “level of disruption Southwest customers have experienced over the Christmas holiday and into the New Year is unacceptable.”
Buttigieg further re-stated the US DOT’s previous intention to hold the airline accountable in honouring its commitment to reimbursing affected passengers appropriately, saying it “will use the fullest extent of its investigative and enforcement powers.”
To this end, the airline has set up a system to permit passengers to submit claims, and to reconnect them with lost baggage:
“We’ve set up a page at Southwest.com/traveldisruption for Customers to submit refund and reimbursement requests for meals, hotel, and alternate transportation; as well as to connect Customers to their baggage.”
Capturing a sense of what people have been going through, a social media post captured the moment a passenger caught up in the travel chaos was finally reunited with his missing baggage:
The cracks appearing
The Southwest Airlines air travel predicament is perhaps a timely example of a greater problem. Over the so-called ‘post-pandemic’ recovery period, we have witnessed airlines across the world struggling with issues of staff shortages and infrastructure issues.
The surge in travel demand, as air travellers took to the skies with a vengeance after a two-year hiatus of lockdowns and movement restrictions has effectively exposed weak links in airlines’ operational chains.
Granted, many of the issues relate to problems caused by the pandemic itself – staff layoffs and aircraft put into storage and then hastily restored to line operations.
However, pre-existing shortcomings and weaknesses are also being exposed through the current period of air travel recovery.
In the case of Southwest Airlines, it appears an underlying cause of the operations meltdown can be attributed to antiquated operations software, which simply could not support the additional crisis of severe weather problems.
The greater concern here is that this scenario is really the recipe for a major incident, and all air operators should really be taking note.
Accidents typically occur from a string of system breakdowns and failures.
We have seen the airline sector run the gamut of these this year – staff shortages and the loss of experienced personnel; aircraft dormant for a long period and then returned to service; weaknesses exposed in operating culture and infrastructure.
The New Year will certainly be an interesting one as the industry struggles to regain a firmer footing.