DALLAS (AP) — Southwest Airlines Co said it expects to resume normal operations Friday after cutting its flight schedule by about two-thirds in recent days, including canceling another 2,350 flights on Thursday.
Airline executives told staff that this week’s crew scheduling – the main cause of the crash – had been resolved.
Southwest Airlines is struggling to recover after being battered by a winter storm that left hundreds of pilots and flight attendants stranded in locations where they cannot operate flights.
The number of passengers affected could well exceed 1 million. Southwest has canceled more than 13,000 flights since the crash began on Dec. 22. Its planes have between 143 and 175 seats and are likely to be almost fully booked for the Christmas and New Year holidays.
Other airlines have returned to full capacity. Delta, American and United had collectively canceled about 30 flights by late morning, according to tracker FlightAware.
Southwest’s flight cancellation rate was 58%, slightly better than in previous days. The Dallas-based carrier accounted for more than 95% of all canceled flights in the U.S. on Thursday.
Southwest Airlines acknowledged that its technology was inadequate and outdated, which could keep crews out of position when bad weather hits. But company executives told employees the crewing issue had largely been resolved.
Chief Operating Officer Andrew Watterson told staff via video on Wednesday: “Right now it looks like operations are going very smoothly as we go into a transition period (Thursday) that will allow us to resume operations on Friday on our normal schedule, which is a big step forward. “night.
The airline declined requests for executives to comment and did not provide an update on operations on its website. Its main public outreach is the release of a video statement from chief executive Robert Jordan and its chief commercial officer.
Jordan faces a crisis just 11 months after succeeding longtime leader Gary Kelly as CEO. When Jordan joined 35 years ago, Southwest had 88 aircraft and 7,000 employees. It now has more than 700 aircraft and more than 60,000 employees.
Speaking to reporters at Southwest’s headquarters in Dallas a month ago, Jordan spoke with lighthearted humor about the airline’s culture and customer service. He outlined five priorities, including modernizing the technology airlines use to schedule pilots and flight attendants.
“I do think the scale and growth of airlines is ahead of the tools we have,” he said. “It’s no one’s fault – investment is needed – and we’ll get it done.”
Jordan did not give a timeline or amount for the investment, nor did he explain why the airline has not yet completed the work. But his comments about the airline’s archaic crew scheduling system appeared to foreshadow one of the main causes of the current debacle – the inability to keep pilots and flight attendants on hand when operations are disrupted.
“We have a lot of staff moving around the country,” he said at the time. “If they get reassigned — they need to go to a different city than they thought or on a different flight, or they get reassigned to a new hotel — someone needs to call them or basically chase them at the airport And tell them what their re-route looks like.
“So at our size and scale, that’s not going to work.”
The federal government is investigating what happened at Southwest Airlines.
Southwest Airlines added a page on its website just for stranded passengers and invited customers to submit receipts for unexpected expenses. The airline said it would consider reimbursement for “reasonable” expenses for meals, hotel rooms and other transportation incurred between Dec. 24 and Jan. 2. Consumer advocates criticized the use of the word “reasonable” as too vague.
Thousands of Southwest customers were unable to reach the airline this week as its phone system was overwhelmed. Pilots and flight attendants also reported being held on hold for hours.
Investors seem to think that Southwest Airlines may finally resolve the crisis. Shares of the company were up more than 3% in afternoon trading, but were still down 8% for the week.
The airline has not given an estimate of how much revenue it has lost or how much additional costs it will incur — Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and some members of Congress have asked Southwest to pay stranded travelers for the hotel rooms, meals and replacements they booked Flights cost other airlines.
A sign of the price tag: Southwest Airlines said an outage in October 2021 cost it $75 million. That crash, which was much smaller, resulted in the cancellation of about 2,000 flights over four days. Then, as this week, Southwest’s solution was to cut schedules to stabilize operations.
Southwest Airlines is the most profitable US airline so far this year, with net income of $759 million through September.
Raymond James airline analyst Savanthi Syth said on Thursday that she still expects the carrier to report a small profit in the fourth quarter, but some consumers may switch from Southwest to other airlines when booking travel in the coming months.
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