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Southwest Airlines announces plans to return to ‘normal operations’ – NBC Chicago


After a week of travel chaos and a “collapse” in flights at Southwest Airlines, the company has finally announced plans to return to “normal operations”.

In a statement Thursday, Southwest said that while it continues to operate at about a third of its scheduled Thursday schedule, it plans to return with “minimal disruption” from Friday – just in time for the New Year. .

“We are encouraged by the progress we have made to realign the crew, their schedules and our fleet. With another holiday weekend full of important connections for our valued customers and employees, we look forward to returning to a state of normalcy,” said the airline’s statement read. “We know that even our sincerest apologies – to our customers, employees and all those affected by this disruption – go no further.”

The company said it plans to invest in “new solutions to manage large-scale disruptions,” but did not give a timeline for implementing those solutions.

Customers who were impacted by cancellations and the baggage debacle this week have been asked to submit refund and refund requests at

Travelers faced widespread hardship ahead of the Christmas holiday weekend as deadly winter weather swept across the United States, but while some of the storm’s effects persisted, much of the travel disruption resolved this week – except for those who flew on Southwest Airlines.

As other airlines have recovered, Southwest cut thousands of flights earlier this week and another 2,500 flights Wednesday and 2,300 Thursday.

The airline blamed the lingering effects of the storm and “scheduling issues” for the chain reaction that kept many people from returning home after their parties.

At Chicago’s Midway Airport, hundreds of passengers were stranded, baggage piled up and delays grew from hours to days. Midway International Airport is one of the airline’s busiest stops.

Similar scenes have been reported at airports across the United States

It wasn’t just the passengers who were stranded.

According to a statement from TWU Local 556, Southwest Airlines Flight Attendant Union of more than 18,000 members, “thousands” of crew members are also stranded across the country, “some forced to sleep on cots at airports , some in hotels with no electricity or water , and far too many working long hours far beyond acceptable working days, and more.”

“We know the demands of holiday travel,” the union statement continued. “We know about winter storms…We know about stepping in and working long hours when called upon; we’re flight attendants. But at this point, the many years of failure to management, despite numerous union’ requests for upgrades, left flight attendants tired, stranded, hungry and cold. »

Captain Casey Murray, president of SWAPA, on Tuesday called the situation “shameful”, “catastrophic” and “a failure on every level”.

Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has criticized airlines for previous disruptions, said “collapse” was the only word he could think of to describe this week’s events in Southwest. He noted that while cancellations in the rest of the industry declined to around 4% of scheduled flights, they remained above 60% in Southwest.

From the high rate of cancellations to customers’ inability to reach Southwest by phone, the airline’s performance has been unacceptable, Buttigieg said. He promised to hold the airline accountable and push it to reimburse travellers.

The disparity sparked a closer review of Southwest operations by the US Department of Transportation, which called the rate of cancellations ‘unacceptable’ and sought to ensure the carrier was meeting its obligations to customers. blocked.

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker also said he had been in contact with federal officials about the cancellations in recent days, demanding that the airline be held accountable.

“I follow closely the challenges consumers face regarding their canceled flights to the southwest,” Pritzker said. “I spoke with Secretary Buttigieg to express the frustration of thousands of Illinoisans who have been stranded and missed quality time with family or had to cancel work because they couldn’t return home. “

But Southwest Airlines was canceled by a combination of factors, including an outdated crew scheduling system and a network design that allows cancellations in one region to quickly spread across the country. These weaknesses are nothing new – they helped cause a similar failure by Southwest in October 2021.

Here is an explanation of what happened:

Why has Southwest had more flight cancellations than other airlines?

In a statement from Southwest on Monday, the airline said it was severe weather that “forced daily changes to our flight schedule at a volume and scale that still has the tools our crews use to restore airline operating at full capacity”, and that the airline has made the decision to “continue to operate a reduced schedule by flying approximately one third of our schedule for the next few days”.

A video update posted to Southwest Airline’s website Tuesday by CEO Bob Jordan echoed that sentiment, saying “cities with large numbers of scheduled flights simultaneously froze as record-breaking freezing cold posed challenges to all airlines”.

“Our network is very complex and the operation of the airline relies on all the elements, especially the planes and the crews staying in motion to where they need to go,” Jordan said. “The tools we use to recover from disruptions serve us well, 99% of the time; but it is clear that we need to double down on our already existing plans to upgrade systems in these extreme circumstances so that we never face another what’s going on right now.”

Jordan concluded his post by saying the airline is “optimistic to be back on track before next week.”

However, according to travel expert Kurt Ebenhoch, it wasn’t the storm that caused the disruption.

“If it was just a purely weather issue, all carriers would have the same difficulties,” Ebenhock told NBC 5 in an interview.

According to Captain Michael Santoro, vice president of the Southwest Airlines Pilot Association, although the severe weather was the catalyst, it was a “largely outdated” IT infrastructure and scheduling system that is different from other carriers that have led to collapse.

“We’re running a point-to-point network that can put our crews in the wrong place, with no planes, mismatched. Our software can’t keep track of that,” Santoro said Tuesday, adding that the union raises the issue every year.

“They never update it. They never invest the money and the resources that they need. So we continue to have these issues,” Santoro said.

Union leaders in the South West have warned for years that the airline’s crew scheduling system, which dates back to the 1990s, is inadequate, and the CEO this week acknowledged the technology needs to be upgraded.

The other major US airlines use “hub and spoke” networks in which flights depart from a few major airports or hubs. This limits the scope of disruption caused by bad weather in one part of the country.

Southwest does, however, have a “point-to-point” network in which aircraft criss-cross the country during the day. This can increase the utilization and efficiency of each aircraft, but problems in one location can spread across the country and leave crews stranded out of position.

These issues don’t explain all the complaints stranded travelers have had about Southwest, including the airline’s inability to reach the airline and lack of hotel and meal assistance.

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