Southwest Airlines’ travel chaos, explained

Southwest Airlines is a real mess right now.

Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

We hope you’re reading this from where you expected to be this morning. If not, is it because Southwest Airlines stranded you?

As of Tuesday morning, the airline had canceled 5.4k+ domestic flights since Monday, with more cancellations to come, per NPR.

Its stock sank ~6% on Tuesday, while passengers turned to social media to gripe about missing luggage and missed plans.

What’s the deal?

In October 2021, Southwest canceled 2k+ flights over four days due to bad weather and staffing, resulting in a $75m loss. Then-CEO Gary Kelly said it’d made adjustments to prevent future chaos.

But while recent winter storms strained many airlines, Southwest accounted for ~2.9k of Monday’s 4k+ cancellations, compared to Delta’s 276.

Southwest also faced:

  • Big storms at its Chicago and Denver hubs, per CNN
  • Tighter schedules than other airlines, given its shorter flights
  • Staffing shortages, due in part to “tripledemic” illnesses and crew members hitting their federally mandated work limits
  • Outdated scheduling systems that crashed under pressure, leaving employees in chaos

What now?

For the next several days, Southwest will operate about one-third of its schedule. CEO Bob Jordan has also acknowledged that the airline needs to “modernize” its tech.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Transportation is investigating if Southwest’s recent cancellations were “controllable” (defined as within the airline’s control), and if it’s complying with its customer service plan (what it’s promised to do in the event of controllable cancellations and delays).

BTW: President Joe Biden has encouraged affected passengers to see if they’re eligible for compensation.

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