At the end of last year, between Christmas and New Years, Southwest Airlines melted down – stranding around two million passengers and costing the airline around $1 billion dollars.
The long tail event began in Denver where a storm occurred, there wasn’t enough de-icing equipment, and there weren’t enough rampers – who all started calling in sick. But bad weather, that all the airlines were facing, cascaded and Southwest lost control of their operation.
There were too many inexperienced people and Southwest’s systems couldn’t keep track of so many flight attendants in the wrong cities and those systems couldn’t rebuild so many flights once planes and crew were out of position.
I’ve had several reporters ask lately, do I think Southwest is ready for the holidays this year?
- Yes, they have made some new investments since last year.
- But mostly last year was such a confluence of unlikely events paired together, at the same time, that it’s simply unlikely to reoccur this year.
Southwest for its part says they’re ready, and is outlining a ‘game plan’ for employees to prevent another Christmas meltdown.
- They want to get everything in order for first flight of the day. American calls these ‘right start’ flights. But this is always true. Delays stack, so make sure any maintenance issues are handled overnight.
- They’ve improved their tech (somewhat, this is an ongoing process) and they’ve added de-icing equipment in Denver, Chicago Midway and Nashville and they’ve added supplies like heaters to help crew work in cold weather.
- They think they’ve addressed the issue of green employees through training and reorganization.
- SkySolver rebuilds schedules but wasn’t up to the gargantuan task of rebuilding the entire schedule on the fly last year. So they rebuilt about 40% – 50% of it each day manually. They have better tools to track and reassign crew to flights now, too.
Ultimately too many things failed at once last year that they spiraled out of control. Southwest should be better positioned to recover this year – but they probably won’t be tested the way they were at Christmas 2022.