Southwest Airlines struggled with hundreds of delayed and canceled flights over the busy Christmas holiday travel weekend, disrupting plans for thousands of passengers. By Sunday afternoon, Southwest had canceled over 300 flights, with nearly 1,000 more flights delayed.
The flight disruptions renewed scrutiny on the Dallas-based airline after a meltdown earlier this month led to nearly 17,000 canceled flights and stranded passengers across the country. While this weekend’s issues appeared more limited in scope, they underscored Southwest’s ongoing challenges managing its schedule and fleet during disruptive winter weather events.
Fog Triggers Chicago Flight Disruptions
On Christmas Eve morning, dense fog descended on the Chicago area, prompting significant flight cancellations and delays at Midway International Airport, one of Southwest’s largest bases. At one point, around 50 Southwest flights were canceled at Midway, representing about 25% of the airline’s flights, while many others were delayed.
The cancellations rippled through Southwest’s route network as planes and crews were unable to depart on time. By Saturday afternoon, over 250 Southwest flights had been canceled nationwide, according to flight tracking site FlightAware.
Compounding matters, a winter storm brought snow and ice to parts of the Midwest and Great Lakes region on Christmas Day. The inclement weather made it difficult for Southwest to resume normal operations and get stranded planes and crews repositioned.
Renewed Scrutiny From Regulators, Politicians
The fresh round of Southwest flight problems occurred while the airline already faces heightened scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers.
Earlier this month, Southwest canceled nearly 2,500 flights on the same day after a winter storm and inadequate crew scheduling resources left it unable to recover. In the following days, a cascade of cancellations ensued, totaling around 16,700 flights over 10 days.
The meltdown stranded countless passengers during one of the busiest travel periods of the year. It also prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to launch an inquiry into Southwest’s “unacceptable rate of canceled and delayed flights.” Several lawmakers also called for congressional hearings on the causes behind the crisis.
Southwest Airlines Flight Cancellations – Christmas Weekend 2022
|Total U.S. Cancellations
|Fog in Chicago
|Residual disruptions, winter weather
The fresh flight cancellations could increase pressure on Southwest to resolve its operational issues and provide recompense to affected customers. The airline has already offered 25,000 frequent flyer points as a “goodwill gesture” to customers whose flights were canceled or significantly delayed between December 24-31.
Several politicians expressed frustration over passengers experiencing more disruptions this weekend. Senator Richard Blumenthal tweeted that “Americans deserve better” and that regulators should hold Southwest management accountable.
Unclear When Southwest Will Fully Recover
It remains uncertain when Southwest will fully restore stability to its flight network. The airline acknowledged past struggles adequately staffing for peak travel days and has trimmed its published flight schedules for much for early 2023.
However, major winter storms continue to disrupt airline operations this season. And Southwest faces criticism for failures over multiple holidays in recent years, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. Its outdated crew scheduling technology exacerbates the airline’s vulnerability to external shocks like adverse weather.
In the near-term, Southwest could trim more flights to improve dependability. But until it upgrades critical technology systems, the airline risks repeating this month’s meltdown whenever the next storm hits. For stranded passengers, that instability leads to ruined vacations and lost trust, consequences Southwest must address to retain loyal customers.
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