The disruptions and travel chaos that caused thousands of Southwest Airlines flights cancellations over the holiday period could cost the air carrier up to $835 million. A recent company regulatory filing has revealed that the cancellation of flights that disrupted the travel plans for holiday travelers and airline staff over the Christmas and New Year period will end up costing the airline dearly.
Below we will look at exactly what happened during the Southwest Airlines cancellations at Christmas, the causes, and how the company is working to make sure a similar incident doesn't occur again in the future.
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What Happened During the Southwest Airlines Cancellations at Christmas?
Between the period of December 21 and 31, there were thousands of South West Airlines flights cancellations. These flight cancellations left thousands of Southwest staff, business travelers, and families stranded over the holiday period while a record amount of unclaimed baggage piled up in airports throughout the US.
Many travelers found that their baggage had traveled to destinations without them, and faced a fight through organizational chaos and weeks of struggle to reclaim their belongings.
What Caused the Southwest Airlines Cancellations at Christmas?
All US airlines were expecting and bracing themselves for a heavy holiday travel period, and the stress was increased by the winter storms which plagued much of the country.
But while all major airlines had to cancel or delay flights, Southwest flight bookings in particular were hugely affected. The airlines canceled thousands of flights which amounted to 60% of its booked Christmas and New Year's flights. The airline with the second highest cancellation rate, Delta canceled 311 flights, in comparison to the 5,500 Southwest Airlines flights which were canceled.
There were various causes that led to a perfect storm for one of the largest air carriers in the US. This included staff shortages resulting from the pandemic, employee sickness due to the flu, an outdated computer system (that made staff scheduling difficult), and inclement weather.
Following the inconvenience of canceled flights, customers ran into trouble when trying to locate their luggage and upload receipts for reimbursements. Customers also ran into problems when trying to use the Southwest Airlines portal to organize their travel.
How did Southwest Airlines Reimburse Customers for the Disrupted Flight Schedule?
In order to combat the anger and loss of trust that the Southwest airlines flights cancelations, the airline took action to try to rectify the situation and repair consumer relationships.
To rebuild its reputation and reimburse its disappointed customers, Southwest started offering 25,000 flight credits which have a dollar value of over $300 when spent on flights. This was offered to Southwest consumers who faced canceled or significantly delayed flights over the holiday period.
What Was the Fallout for Southwest Airlines Cancellations?
The fallout for the company included plummeting stock and customers taking legal action due to a delay in refund of flights. The Southwest Airlines flights cancellations led to widespread outrage and criticism of the airline's operations from both the public and professionals.
Following the chaos, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association released a public letter addressing Southwest Airlines' former CEO and chairman, Gary Kelly. In the letter, the association asked: "How did we get here? How did we go from the most stable and profitable airline in history to the greatest meltdown in airline history? As with most organizations, the answer can be distilled down to one word: Leadership."
Mr. Kelly was singled out for criticism by Captain Tom Nekouei, the vice president of the union. "Gary Kelly still reigns supreme on the board of this Company despite having overseen the decisions and setting the conditions that made this most recent fiasco possible."
Meanwhile, Pete Buttigieg, the US Department of Transportation Secretary said that the air carrier had "failed its customers." He also pledged that he and his department would work in order to make sure to "get travelers what they are owed. This comes as we conclude a very active year of work - and results - in aviation consumer protection."
In a follow-up tweet on December 31, Buttigieg pleaded: "In 2023 we will continue our work, from accountability for Southwest Airlines to further progress supporting all airline passengers through action on enforcement."
Southwest Airlines itself expects to lose between $400-425 million in revenue. This comes with increased costs in operating expenses, awarding of frequent flyer points, payment of employees, and reimbursing affected travelers.
How Will Southwest Airlines Improve in the Future?
The airline CEO, Bob Jordan, has tweeted out an apology to customers following the Southwest Airlines cancellations. "I can't say it enough how sorry I am for the impact these challenges have had on our employees and our customers."
He followed this up with a pledge to Southwest Airlines customers. "We have a long and proud record of delivering on expectations, and when we fall short, we aim to do the right thing."
The airline is aiming to improve its performance in 2023 via a variety of initiatives, including:
- Ensuring that all pre-pandemic domestic flights are returned to the flight schedule. The aim is to complete this process by the 3rd quarter of 2023.
- Bring back pre-pandemic depth of coverage to cities to help business travelers book day or weekend trips.
- Improve the reliability of Wifi on Southwest flights which has been patchy.
- Scheduling longer flights to destinations such as Hawaii as well as their shorter domestic flights.
- New, larger overhead bins which can accommodate more luggage.
- Trialing a revamped family boarding process which will see families boarding before A group passengers.
- Working to minimize the turn times of arrivals and departures of flights.
- An increase in "golden hours" flights which operate between 7 am and 7 pm.
- The airline has announced its commitment to continuing to issue request flyer points with no expiration dates and has introduced a scheme to allow you to transfer your collected flight credits to someone else.
- Improve the airline's website and digital functionality to make the booking process more streamlined for families.