Biden, DOT To Examine Southwest Airlines Canceling Flights Due To Crew Scheduling Error

Southwest Airlines passengers could be spending the rest of their holidays stuck in airports as the airline has been cancelling over 8,000 of its flights in the last three days. The firm seeks to recover from the severe winter weather and staffing shortages that delayed tens of thousands of passengers and luggage over the busy holiday weekend.

Southwest grounded more than 2,900 flights on Monday and 2,600 flights on Tuesday, the latter accounting for 86% of all domestic flight cancellations that day. On Wednesday, the airline canceled about 2,500 flights scheduled, accounting for over 99% of all announced domestic flight cancellations. Today, 2,357 flights have already been cancelled by the airline.

The airline is blaming technical issues with tools that create employee schedules.

The carrier’s interruptions drew more scrutiny from the White House and the Transportation Department, which said it was investigating Southwest’s “unacceptable” cancellation processing. President Joe Biden tweeted that his “administration is working to ensure airlines are held accountable.”

In particular, the department seeks to clarify if the cancellations were “controllable”, which would trigger the customer service plan–the rules of procedure on compensating stranded passengers.

In a video posted Tuesday evening, Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan apologized to passengers and staff, saying the airline needed to postpone more flights in order to reestablish normal operations by the end of the week. Meanwhile, staff and planes will be moved to their proper locations.

Jordan added that the airline is attempting to handle reimbursements for passengers who paid for costly plan adjustments and new flights. He stated that Southwest will endeavor to enhance its systems to handle such large-scale weather catastrophes “so that we never face what’s happening right now again.”

He also denied that the airline was understaffed, stating that its scheduling tools were having issues keeping up.

Outdated scheduler

TWU Local 556 president Lyn Montgomery, who represents over 18,000 Southwest flight attendants, blamed the problems on obsolete scheduling systems. Following the initial wave of storm-related cancellations, flight crews were frequently required to be manually contacted about flight modifications, an onerous procedure that sometimes involved flight attendants waiting on hold for hours to talk with staff who handle scheduling.

According to Montgomery, several flight attendants were unable to board flights in order to arrive in the respective cities for their shifts. Crew personnel who are required to take breaks ran into time constraints as well. Flight attendants were forced to wait for hotel assignments in order to recuperate, she added, leaving some without a place to stay for far longer than usual.

The problems occurred as airlines tried to increase hiring when travel enthusiasm returned following the outbreak. Southwest became the first airline to hire more people in 2019 this summer, adding 15,700 people. Airlines officials had stated that reliability was a top priority and that they would be able to handle the busy holiday travel season.

Southwest attributed the high number of cancellations on the winter storm and crew difficulties.

“With consecutive days of extreme winter weather across our network behind us, continuing challenges are impacting our customers and employees in a significant way that is unacceptable,” Southwest said in a statement Monday. “And our heartfelt apologies for this are just beginning.”

Since the winter storm blasted through the country on Thursday, more than 22,000 domestic flights have been canceled, a situation that initially affected all carriers. Southwest has canceled over 15,700 flights during that time, and it has continued to cut its schedule while other carriers have recovered.

With the brouhaha on Southwest Airlines cancellations, one did wonder:

Information for this briefing was found via The Washington Post, UPI, and the sources mentioned. The author has no securities or affiliations related to this organization. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.

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