Families with little children are stranded at the airport during the holidays. Flight attendants and pilots rest on the floor. Vast mounds of bags, some with gifts inside, others with medication, all stranded at the incorrect airport. And disgruntled passengers who have been on wait for hours on end.
Southwest Airlines’ escalating faults have crossed off a long list of travel horrors. Last week, every airline had poor weather and cancellations, but only Southwest failed.
It wasn’t just the weather that contributed to the catastrophe
A significant winter storm caused the first flight cancellations, but the company’s internal software systems converted a regular problem into an extraordinary calamity.
Several airlines employ a “hub and spoke” system to save money, routing flights via a few major airports. Southwest has long been proud of its “point to point” method. It’s a leaner system daily, but it also entails more difficult scheduling issues to get planes, pilots, and flight crews to the correct location at the right time.
By all accounts, Southwest was managing that complex system with outmoded computer systems.
Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan likened the airline’s mess to a “huge jigsaw” that must be solved. And he stated unequivocally that the company’s “already existing plans to update systems” needed to be expedited.
The Department of Transportation has said that it will conduct its own inquiry into what went wrong.
Many people were taken aback by the airline’s colossal failure.
Southwest isn’t a fly-by-night company or a low-cost carrier where consumers have minimal expectations and unhappiness is part of the deal. It was a well-respected, even adored, firm in some situations.
“They’ve got the best reputation for customer service and management agility,” airline analyst Richard Aboulafia told NPR. “They’re usually pretty good at responding to crises.”
“I have 50,000 miles with them,” said Hillary Chang, a traveller whose bag was lost in the Southwest disaster vortex. Now, she says, “I’ve been thinking about it … I’m open to dating another airline.”
Employees are also unhappy. Customers aren’t the only ones who are irritated.
The union president representing Southwest pilots called the Christmas catastrophe “catastrophic,” but told NPR that he, like other pilots, was not shocked.
Multiple schedule meltdowns in the past two years, albeit minor compared to the Christmas calamity, suggested that Southwest had a problem. Pilots were eager to get to work, but Southwest had no planes or routes available. The same happened in this accident, and many pilots and flight crews resorted to social media to vent about their firms.
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