Southwest: Normal flight operations to resume Friday

Dec 29, 2022, 4:00 PM | Updated: Dec 30, 2022, 5:57 am

A Salt Lake Police Officer and his K-9 partner inspect unclaimed bags at Southwest Airlines baggage...

A Salt Lake Police Officer and his K-9 partner inspect unclaimed bags at Southwest Airlines baggage claim at Salt Lake City International Airport Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022, in Salt Lake City. Southwest Airlines is still trying to extract itself from sustained scheduling chaos and cancelled another 2,350 flights after a winter storm overwhelmed its operations days ago. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

DALLAS (AP) — Southwest Airlines said it expects to return to normal operations Friday after more than a week of widespread flight cancellations that started with a winter storm and spiraled out of control because of a breakdown with staffing technology.

If Thursday turns out to be the last day of the Southwest crisis, it will be marked by about 2,350 canceled flights, nearly 60% of the airline’s schedule.

Southwest declined to say how many people have been affected, but it is likely that far more than 1 million have had a flight canceled.

The airline has scrapped more than 13,000 flights since Dec. 22, according to tracking service FlightAware. Its planes have 143 to 175 seats and were likely nearly fully booked around the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

Airline executives said that crew-scheduling technology — a major cause of the meltdown — has caught up with the backlog of pilots and flight attendants stranded in wrong locations. Southwest operated 1,600 flights on Thursday, including 104 that carried no passengers but instead served to put planes and crews in position for full operations on Friday.

Southwest leaders believe they will have enough empty seats over the next several days to accommodate any stranded passengers still wishing to fly on the airline — while conceding that many had either given up or found other transportation.

Southwest will refund tickets on canceled flights, and executives repeated a promise to reimburse travelers who were forced to pay for hotel rooms, meals and flights on other airlines. The airline’s chief commercial officer said that process will take several weeks. Executives said the airline also will pay to ship baggage that has piled up at airports around the country.

Southwest lost $75 million during a much smaller disruption in October 2021 that resulted in about 2,000 canceled flights over a four-day stretch.

CEO Robert Jordan said it was too early to say how much the company will lose in revenue and incur in extra costs because of the current crisis. Jordan told reporters that events of the last week will likely cause Southwest to re-examine priorities and spending levels for technology improvements that were already underway, but he offered no specifics.

“This has been an incredible disruption, and we can’t have this again,” he said.

Southwest has struggled to recover after being overwhelmed by a winter storm that swept the country last week. Other airlines bounced back within a couple days, but Southwest ran short of ground workers at airports in Denver and Chicago, and its problems exploded from there.

On Thursday, Southwest accounted for about 95% of all canceled flights in the United States. Executives said they had canceled only 39, or less than 1% of the schedule, for Friday.

Jordan faces a crisis just 11 months after he became CEO, replacing longtime leader Gary Kelly. Southwest had 88 planes and 7,000 employees when Jordan joined 35 years ago. Now it has more than 700 planes and more than 60,000 employees.

Speaking to reporters a month ago at Southwest headquarters in Dallas, a relaxed and jocular Jordan spoke in glowing terms about the airline’s culture and customer service. He outlined five priorities, including modernizing the airline’s technology for scheduling pilots and flight attendants.

Under Southwest’s system, which dates to the 1990s, when crew members are reassigned to a different flight or even change hotels, “somebody needs to call them or basically in the airport chase them down and tell them what their re-route looks like,” Jordan said.

“I do think the scale and the growth of the airline got ahead of the tools that we have,” he said. “No fault of anybody — takes investment — and we’ll get all this done.”

The federal government is investigating what happened at Southwest. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg took fresh swipes at the airline on Thursday, tweeting that he would hold Southwest responsible for “unacceptable performance.” He asked followers to tell his department if Southwest fails to reimburse them for travel costs.

Southwest added a page to its website specifically for stranded travelers, and it invited customers to submit receipts for unexpected expenses. The airline said it would consider reimbursing “reasonable” expenses for meals, hotel rooms and alternate transportation incurred between Dec. 24 and Jan. 2. Consumer advocates criticized the use of the word “reasonable” as too vague.

Investors cheered signs that Southwest might finally be getting a handle on the crisis. The company’s shares rose nearly 4%, but were still down nearly 8% for the week.

Southwest has been the most profitable U.S. airline so far this year, earning $759 million in net income through September.

Raymond James airline analyst Savanthi Syth said Thursday that she still expects the company to post a small profit in the fourth quarter, but that some consumers are likely to switch from Southwest to other airlines over the next few months when booking travel.

Another airline analyst, Colin Scarola of CFRA, said he too didn’t expect the “Christmas week fiasco” to have a lasting impact because Southwest often has lower fares than its three largest rivals: American, United and Delta.

“History shows customers tend not to permanently ditch an airline even after an awful experience due to the commodity-like nature of the product,” he wrote in a note to clients.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

United States News

Associated Press

Patient and 3 staffers charged in another patient’s beating death at mental health facility

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A patient, two psychiatric assistants and a nurse have been indicted on charges stemming from the beating death of another patient at a state-run mental health facility in Ohio. A 24-year-old man who allegedly attacked the 57-year-old victim at Twin Valley Behavioral Healthcare in Columbus on July 23, 2022, is charged […]

46 minutes ago

Associated Press

Writer for conservative media outlet surrenders to face Capitol riot charges

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Texas-based writer for a conservative media outlet surrendered to authorities Friday on charges that he joined a mob’s attack on the U.S. Capitol more than three years ago. Steve Baker, who has written articles about the Jan. 6, 2021, riot for Blaze News, faces four misdemeanor counts, including trespassing and disorderly […]

2 hours ago

FILE - Kristlyn Wood, a cousin of 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham, reacts during a vigil in Cunningha...

Associated Press

Family and advocates want solution to legal loophole after the death of Audrii Cunningham

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — As mourners prepare for the funeral of 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham, who was killed near Houston, the community wants answers about how the suspect in her death was allowed to remain free despite a long criminal history of violence. Nearly two decades years before Don McDougal was charged with capital murder in […]

2 hours ago

Palestinians inspect the rubble of destroyed buildings after an Israeli airstrike in Nusseirat refu...

Associated Press

US to airdrop humanitarian aid into Gaza — how it can help and why it’s so complicated

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Friday announced that the U.S. will begin airdropping sorely needed humanitarian assistance into Gaza amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. Here’s what you need to know: WHEN WILL THE AIRDROPS START? Biden said the airdrops will be coordinated with Jordan, which has conducted several rounds of airdrops into Gaza […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Judge puts brakes on new law banning foreign government spending on referendums

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A federal judge is delaying the implementation of a voter-approved law in Maine that aimed to close an election law loophole by stopping foreign government spending on state referendum races. U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen issued a preliminary injunction on Thursday, the day before the new law was to go into […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Legislation to legalize, tax skill games in Virginia heads to governor

Virginia lawmakers passed legislation Friday that would legalize skill games, the slots-like betting machines that proliferated in businesses around the state before an on-again, off-again ban took effect. If signed by GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin, the bill would tax and regulate the devices, which are also known as gray machines because of the murky area […]

3 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.


Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Valley residents should be mindful of plumbing ahead of holidays

With Halloween in the rear-view and more holidays coming up, Day & Night recommends that Valley residents prepare accordingly.

Southwest: Normal flight operations to resume Friday