Southwest Airlines restarted flights on Friday as it looks to prevent another disruption

Southwest Airlines It hopes to end a week-long disaster and bring nearly 4,000 flights back on Friday as it considers how to prevent a repeat of one of the worst operating disasters in its history.

After, after More than 15,700 flights have been canceled over the eight days since December 22The Dallas-based carrier said Thursday that it finally has pilots, flight attendants and planes in place to return to a normal schedule on Friday. To achieve this, the airline said it had to close two-thirds of its flights between Tuesday and Thursday to stem a series of cancellations that mounted by the day and left millions of passengers stranded over the Christmas holidays.

Commanders blamed these issues on bad weather and Crew rescheduling technology system ‘too much’ He couldn’t keep up with the task of resetting thousands of pilots and flight attendants after wintry weather hit home bases in Denver and Chicago.

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But during a media call Thursday, Chief Executive Officer Bob Jordan, Chief Operating Officer Andrew Waterson and other top Southwest managers were short on answers as to whether or not a meltdown again could happen again.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in 35 years in terms of the impact on the network, the level of transactions, the complexity of the solutions, all that stuff — none of these excuses anymore,” Jordan said during the call. . “But there will be priorities that come from responding to this because this is not something we want to happen again to our customers or our employees.”

Southwest leaders aren’t exactly sure How many passengers should be accommodated in the coming days Because the level of disruption was so deep that many opted for other forms of transportation, bought expensive last-minute flights on other airlines or missed vacations altogether as the crash lasted more than a week and spilled into Christmas weekend.

About 2.3 million passengers were left stranded during the crash.

“We don’t know how many people still need to travel,” Watterson said. “It depends on who still wants to travel, so to speak. And easily in the first five days of the year, I can see there is room for people if they need to travel.”

It wasn’t until late Wednesday that Southwest told employees, many of whom are still stranded in hotel rooms away from home, that it would try to reset the flight schedule again on Friday. Southwest told customers Thursday morning and then told the public later that day. Southwest also resold tickets for Friday and weekend after halting sales earlier in the week to prevent these reservations from being canceled as well as to make room for the pilot and flight attendants.

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Southwest has spent the past two days developing a plan to get pilots and flight attendants back to their positions to resume flights they had originally scheduled before the crash. Cutting about 2,500 flights a day gave the carrier the resources to track down flight attendants and pilots scattered across the country and devise a strategy to end the cascading problems.

With automated systems to reset pilots and flight attendants useless, Southwest has trained a group of about 1,000 employees to help manually reschedule crew members, contacting them individually, Waterson said.

Having gone through this series of weather and operational disruptions, Watterson said the company can re-apply this process again in the event of another failure.

Otherwise, it will take airlines years to fully re-implement new crew scheduling technology systems.

“It’s just a big, complicated project,” Jordan said. “This is not meant to be an excuse. It’s just a fact.”

“I think a discussion from this would be what we can do, certainly, in the critical areas of the plan to accelerate that and accelerate that development.”

He said the company is working on upgrading and replacing outdated technology, but it takes time.

“We have a very big infrastructure spending plan every year – the capital spending plan, technology and other areas, but a lot in technology,” he said. “And the systems are complex. We have outdated systems in some cases. And it’s just the amount of time that these replacements take. So these are multi-year projects.”

delays and cancellations It has already prompted an examination by the Department of Transportation and scrutiny by politicians in Washington, DC

Transportation Minister Pete Buttigieg sent a letter to Jordan on Thursday asking the company to take care of customers financially burdened by travel disruptions.

“Front line personnel are not to blame for errors at the command level,” Buttigieg wrote in the letter. “I hope and expect that you will follow the law, take the steps outlined in this letter, and provide me with a quick update on Southwest’s efforts to do right by the customers I’ve done wrong.”

After meeting with representatives from three of the company’s unions on Wednesday, Representatives Colin Allred, D-Dallas, and Jake Elzey, D-Arlington, issued a joint statement Thursday that read, in part:

“There has always been strong bipartisan support in Congress for the growth of Southwest Airlines …

However, it is clear that for some time, Southwest has taken unacceptable risks and tried to overcome them with an unacceptably small margin of error – both in staffing and in technology – and that this crisis was foreseeable and preventable.

“Paying out hundreds of millions of dividends to shareholders and turning a handsome profit over the first three quarters of this year clearly shows that Southwest is able to address the issues at hand but has chosen not to.” They challenged Southwest executives to fairly compensate passengers and take steps to prevent future crashes.

With the backlog of customer cancellations with Mountains of baggage at airports across the countrySouthwest Airlines has attempted to communicate to customers that it plans to “meet reasonable requests” for reimbursement for hotels, food, transportation, and even tickets on other airlines.

“We have advised customers that if we cancel their flights, they are eligible for a full refund,” said Commercial Director Ryan Green. “If they have to make alternative travel arrangements, we will reimburse the customers for these travel expenses. We will ship the customer’s bag to them at no cost to them. And for the past two days, We have created the websites in order to make this as easy as possible for our customers. “

He said the airline would consider reimbursement for other mitigating circumstances of flight disruptions.

However, Green acknowledged that there are complications, such as determining reasonable requests for reimbursement and knowing how long it will take to process all claims.

“Realistically, it would take us several weeks here to get back to customers,” he said. “We’re working as hard as we can and automating as much of that as possible in order to get these things addressed quickly. But our goal is to work through this as quickly as possible.”

Southwest canceled just 39 flights for Friday as of Thursday noon, According to Flightaware.com. It has canceled more than 2,000 flights every day this week, extending through Monday.

Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said the airline spent Wednesday trying to get crew members back to their home base airports so they could be dispersed Thursday and be in place to start regular flying Friday.

“The hope is that on Friday we can start over and everyone will be in the right place,” said Murray.

Waterson said that while Southwest was only operating about 1,500 of the 4,000 daily passenger flights scheduled this week, it also made 104 “ferry trips” on Thursday just to get crew members and aircraft around the system to be ready on Friday.

Southwest plans to offer nearly 4,000 flights a day over New Year’s weekend as millions of travelers look to get home, to college and back to work after the holiday break.

Union leaders blamed the airlines’ leadership for allowing the company’s technology to fall woefully behind the demands of running such a complex operation.

Jordan Promise to clients that the company will make changes to ensure this type of disruption does not happen again.

In the memo, Watterson said they plan to put pilots and flight attendants on flights that were originally scheduled rather than trying to rebuild missions from scratch.

“Customers want to move what they originally bought, so going to that schedule actually requires the fewest changes and is the least disruptive,” Watterson said.

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