Southwest Airlines (SWA) has had a loyal following for years, thanks to their no-nonsense attitude, super-friendly and funny flight attendants, two free checked bags and no change fees. But unfortunately, they picked the worst week of the year to have a meltdown and the media is (rightly) raking them over the coals. RELATED: Southwest Airlines’ New Boarding Process Isn’t Going to Make Everyone Happy

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Here’s a headline from NPR: “Southwest cancels more than 2,800 flights in a ‘full-blown meltdown’ From Houston, Texas, and Tampa, Fla., to Cleveland, Ohio, and Denver, Colo., passengers are sharing photos and video of overwhelmed baggage claim areas and long lines at reservation counters. At Southwest, the customer service phone line’s hold times averaged more than two hours, sometimes reaching four hours, according to Colorado Public Radio.

According to FlightAware.com: Yesterday, SWA canceled 2,909 flights while American Airlines (AA) which is also headquartered in Texas but has a much larger operation (twice the amount of employees) canceled only 14 flights. And it’s been like that for days as Southwest has seriously ruined Christmas for many or it’s customers. And unfortunately, there’s no end in sight for at least another few days. For example, it’s only 8am PST and SWA has already canceled over 2,500 flights while AA is only at 22.


According to Business Insider: “Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan described Monday’s operational meltdown as “a tough day” as he warned that Tuesday could be equally painful. Southwest continued canceling flights Tuesday after Monday’s debacle left travelers and crew stranded across the US. “We had a tough day today,” Jordan said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal late Monday. “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.”

Warren Buffett once famously said: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” There’s no doubt Southwest Airlines executives are thinking about what went drastically wrong for the airline this past week as they’ve spiraled into a complete meltdown.


What caused Southwest Airlines’ meltdown?
What caused Southwest Airlines’ meltdown? There are a number of factors including winter storm Elliott arriving on one of the biggest travel weeks of the year and bringing hurricane-like winds and freezing cold temperatures across the country. It’s also the one week that most workers rather be home with family. In Denver, where Southwest has one of their largest hubs, many of SWA’s ramp workers called in sick. Here’s Southwest Airlines internal memo to employees, citing an operational emergency.

Other reasons depend on who you ask:
SimplyFlying: “And besides a shortage of ramp agents, the low-cost carrier wasn’t having sufficient flight and cabin crew to operate its flight schedules. The mounting flight cancelations and delays resulted in several crew members reaching their operating limits. But surely, Southwest Airlines would have scheduling software to solve such issues? And besides a shortage of ramp agents, the low-cost carrier wasn’t having sufficient flight and cabin crew to operate its flight schedules. The mounting flight cancelations and delays resulted in several crew members reaching their operating limits. But surely, Southwest Airlines would have scheduling software to solve such issues?”

New York Times: “David Vernon, an airline analyst at the financial firm Sanford C. Bernstein, said Southwest’s network is organized in what is known as a point-to-point system, which enables higher use of planes during normal times but can cause cascading negative effects when things go wrong. “It comes down to the structure of Southwest’s network and its exposure to hard hit areas like Chicago and Denver,” he said.

CBS News: Flight attendants’ union says Southwest Airlines failed workers: “The way Southwest Airlines has treated its flight crews can only be termed ‘despicable,'” said Lyn Montgomery, president of TWU Local 556. “We know the demands of holiday travel. We know winter storms. And believe me, we know about stepping up and putting in long work hours when we are called to do so; we are flight attendants. But at this point, the many years of failure by management, despite many unions’ demands to modernize, has left flight attendants fatigued, stranded, hungry and cold – on Christmas! This impacts lives and threatens safety for all.”

A former PR exec for TSA and American Airlines, @RossFeinstein, thinks: “Is it time for USDOT to require Southwest the ability to rebook on other airlines during IROPS?” (Irregular Operations)

What can travelers do?
If I needed to be somewhere and my flight was cancelled, I wouldn’t sit around waiting until Southwest Airlines gets their operations in order. Depending on the destination, I would either buy a new ticket on another airline or rent a car, if either are available. If not, I would try and find a ride to the next major airport that’s having better luck.

If you can’t get a ride, I would at least secure a comfortable and safe place to sleep. Keep all of your receipts for food, lodging and new clothes (if the airline has lost or misplaced your luggage) and hope they will reimburse you. According to Southwest’s Travel Disruption page: “If you have been impacted by a flight cancellation or significant flight delay between December 24, 2022, and January 2, 2023, you may submit receipts for consideration via Email Us on Southwest.com. We will honor reasonable requests for reimbursement for meals, hotel, and alternate transportation.

The big question is: How do they define “reasonable?”

Southwest Airlines also recommends: “If you are not traveling within the next 72 hours and can wait to call, please do so.” As Southwest’s phone systems are completely overwhelmed, try reaching out to them on Twitter and check their website for updates and advisories.

Lessons learned
-If you can, book your travel with a travel agent since a good one will do the dirty work for you. It’s well worth their $25-$50 fee as many travelers will now agree.
-Don’t book a ticket on an airline that won’t put you on another carrier if their operations go sideways.
-Buy tickets with a credit card and get a chargeback if the airline cancels your flight and you can’t get through to them.
-Buy travel insurance.
-Don’t check a bag. If you must, then pop an Apple AirTag or Samsung SmartTag if you use Android in it so you can track it. More importantly, carry on all your valuables and medicines and pack a set of warm clothes and a couple new outfits in your carry-on, just in case you get stranded.
-Have a solid backup plan.
-If you really need to be somewhere, try this travel hack – but only if you really (REALLY) need to.

Obviously, this has been a disastrous few days for Southwest Airlines and its passengers and operations are going to take days to improve. But if there’s one silver lining, as @AirlineFlyer says: The remaining few [Southwest flights] that are operating this morning are going out roughly on schedule. It’s far more organized this morning. This is how you reset an airline.”

KEEP READING

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