Southwest Airlines Customers Experience Deja Vu

Even after promising it had hired more employees and improved its technology to better cope with the holiday rush, Southwest Airlines had a meltdown for a second year running. 

Still, it fell short of the chaos of 2022, which saw 17,000 flights canceled and resulted in an unprecedented $140 million fine from the United States Department of Transportation. 

That's when "how the airline handled the cancellations -- and the days after -- cost it the faith of some of its passengers,” per The Street

So far this year, more than 400 flights were canceled by Southwest Airlines over the past holiday weekend. “It was far less than last year, but still a nuisance for many travelers over the holidays,” notes TravelPulse



Many of the flights were at Chicago’s Midway airport, which was under a blanket of fog on Dec. 23. According to the National Weather Service, widespread dense fog resulted in visibilities under a quarter of a mile. A dense fog advisory remained in effect across the region through noon Dec. 24. 

Midway Airport is Southwest’s fourth busiest airport operation, where it owns a 90% share. It had 200 departures a day scheduled over the holiday weekend, according to NBC Chicago. The cancelled flights in Chicago resulted in a ripple affect, but the airline says it was able to recover quickly. 

"As a result of the fog at Midway, we have canceled less than 1% of our total flights early on Sunday (53 out of 4242) throughout our network," the statement read.

On Saturday and Sunday, Southwest canceled 426 flights and delayed 2,689 flights, FlightAware data showed, according to ABC News.

Operations have returned to normal for the moment. Just 2% of the airline’s flights were canceled Monday, though 16% were delayed, which is 693 flights total, according to FlightAware.

"Our operation is currently healthy and stable and we do not anticipate any significant disruptions for Tuesday," Southwest told Business Insider. "We continue to have all hands on deck as our employees work to safely take care of our customers during this busy holiday travel season.”

It was a busy travel weekend across airlines. More than 2.6 million people were screened by the Transportation Security Administration on Thursday, according to TSA records, per ABC News. 

Other airlines did not experience the disruptions this weekend that plagued Southwest, notes The Street. 

Delta Air Lines showed a single U.S. flight had been canceled, and Frontier had three while the rest of the major U.S. domestic airlines did not show any cancellations as of Christmas Eve morning. Southwest has also reported 411 delays, well more than Delta at 69 and Frontier with 12, per The Street.

Southwest COO Andrew Watterson addressed the company's winter preparedness during Southwest's third-quarter earnings call

Last year's "disruption was triggered by an unprecedented storm that simultaneously hit several of our most critical stations, but there were many causes, not just one, that led to it," he explained. "As a result, our action plan is divided into three categories: winter operations, cross-team collaboration, and accelerating operational investments, which were already on our road map, including technology.”

This coming weekend will give Southwest another chance to prove it learned its lessons from 2022.

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