Feb 10, 2023 - News

Southwest Airlines exec promises changes after winter meltdown

A Southwest Airlines executive testifies before Senate

Andrew Watterson, chief operating officer at Southwest Airlines, testifies before a Senate committee yesterday. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Southwest Airlines' scheduling system should be fixed by Friday, one of the company's top executives said in testimony before a Senate committee Thursday.

Why it matters: Dallas-based Southwest has faced intense scrutiny from passengers and the federal government since a series of issues led to widespread delays and cancellations in December.

  • More than 15,000 flight cancellations — sparked by severe weather and exacerbated by the airline's business model and tech issues — left travelers stranded for days, reports Axios' Noah Bressner.

State of play: Republicans and Democrats have been divided on how the airline should correct its mistakes and whether the government should enact new regulations.

  • The U.S. Department of Transportation is investigating Southwest's "holiday debacle" to determine whether the airline knowingly deceived customers by scheduling more flights than it could handle.

What went wrong: Sub-zero temperatures and high-speed winds were worse than expected, and conditions were especially bad in Chicago and Denver, Southwest Airlines' chief operating officer Andrew Watterson told a Senate committee about the meltdown.

  • Communication challenges "created an unprecedented amount and frequency" of crew changes that overwhelmed the airline's scheduling process and technology.

Yes, but: Other airlines didn't have nearly as many cancellations as Southwest.

By the numbers: So far, the company has reimbursed 273,406 passenger claims and has nearly 11,000 left to process, Watterson testified.

  • 200 bags still have not been returned, but officials said the luggage was unmarked or didn't have identification tags, per CNN.

What they're saying: Sen. Ted Cruz said during Senate committee questioning on Thursday that he opposes imposing regulations on airlines, per the Washington Post.

  • "Instead of rushing to regulate prices and how many drink coupons you get, the Biden Department of Transportation should instead let the flying public vote with their feet," Cruz said.

What's next: Southwest has $1.3 billion budgeted this year for IT system upgrades and maintenance.


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