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Southwest Meltdown: Why Has Southwest Cancelled So Many Flights – And Many More to Come

Written by Charlie

Why has Southwest cancelled so many flights? Here is a look at the Southwest meltdown that has seen most Southwest flights cancelled or delayed.

With a huge winter storm hitting much of the US, thousands of passengers faced airline delays and cancellations. But, as the temperatures started to climb up again, there was one airline that stood out over all the others with cancellations – Southwest Airlines. Here is a look at how bad it is – and it isn’t getting better.

Why Has Southwest Cancelled So Many Flights

If you are stuck in this Southwest meltdown, please just be easy with the Southwest staff during this time also. Trust me – they are having a very difficult time also and none of this is the fault of the people you are talking to.

How Bad the Southwest Meltdown Is Right Now and Later

According to FlightAware, there were a total of 4,001 cancellations within, into, or out of the US. Of those 4,001 cancellations, 2,909 cancellations were by Southwest. That accounted for 71% of their scheduled flights. Another 16% of their scheduled flights were delayed.

For today, Tuesday (December 27), Southwest has already cancelled 2,513 flights. That is 62% of their schedule. For tomorrow, they have cancelled another 2,474 flights (62% of their flights).

In addition, there are reports coming from company insiders that the airline is telling agents to not schedule people on cancelled flights until this weekend due to their efforts to get back online with their schedule.

According to Southwest’s public statement, they “were fully staffed and prepared for the approaching holiday weekend when the severe weather swept across the continent, where Southwest is the largest carrier in 23 of the top 25 travel markets in the U.S. These operational conditions forced daily changes to our flight schedule at a volume and magnitude that still has the tools our teams use to recover the airline operating at capacity.

The problem with this statement and how it shapes according to the reality of the situation is that the size of their market doesn’t answer why their competitors at other airlines account for about half of the cancellations yesterday – combined – as Southwest had. American Airlines had only 12 cancellations yesterday – compared to the 2,909 cancellations by Southwest.

Why Has Southwest Cancelled So Many Flights

So, why has Southwest cancelled so many flights? The biggest answer is related to the flight structure and schedule that Southwest has. While other airlines operate on a hub-and-spoke model (for example, Delta has hubs in JFK, Detroit, Atlanta, Boston, LaGuardia, and many more. Most of their flights go from these hubs to the destinations that Delta serves and then returns to the hub), Southwest does not.

Instead, Southwest uses a point-to-point model. In this situation, Southwest has flights that start at their hub locations (like Baltimore, Atlanta, Houston Hobby, etc) and then go from point-to-point across the nation throughout the day. So, a flight could go from Baltimore – Nashville – Austin – Kansas City – Denver – Phoenix. When there is a major flight disruption like happened last weekend, this disrupts all of these routes in a way that a hub-and-spoke model is not affected.

Not only that, but the legacy airlines (like Delta, American, United) use regional carriers that service the smaller, regional airports. The airlines themselves offer mainline services to and from major airports. This allows them to base their own planes and staff in the major airports they serve. Southwest does not have that in many of the airports they serve.

So, Southwest is about to continue facing difficult days. Their meltdown over the past couple of days is something that has drawn the scrutiny of the US government now as well. Despite Southwest saying they were prepared, the record makes it look like they definitely weren’t.

What Will Southwest Do Now?

For the passengers who faced cancellations, it could get complicated and difficult for Southwest. Southwest is the one airline that allows customers to cancel all paid and award tickets up to 10 minutes before the flight. So, if a passenger had not made such a change, getting their money or points back now does not solve anything for them.

We shall see what Southwest will end up doing to try and make customers whole. Having a meltdown like this is never good but having one during the Christmas holiday travel season is a nightmare for most travelers. I have been reading dozens of stories of passengers stuck in various airports around the country and losing hotel reservations, travel packages, and more while having to pay out of pocket for the hotels they have to stay in while Southwest tries to get back on track.

Here is what Southwest says about caring for customers during irregular operations:

For significant flight delays or Southwest-initiated cancelations that are not within our control (e.g., weather, Air Traffic Control, safety/security-related events, FAA-required crew duty limitations, infrastructure/utility problems), we will rebook you on the next available Southwest flight(s) with seats available to the Customer’s ticketed destination at no additional cost. If you choose not to travel due to a significant delay and/or cancellation, Southwest will issue a refund of the unused portion of your Southwest ticket upon request in accordance with our Contract of Carriage.

Although we do not offer complimentary lodging accommodations for significant flight delays or Southwest-initiated cancelations that are not in our control, we will seek to arrange a discount off of a lodging accommodation near the airport.

There are other things that they do if the delays or cancellations are within their control and that is what this will come down to – is all of this outside of the control of Southwest or within it? Southwest’s statement is obviously trying to setup the scenario that this was all outside of their control but it is clear when you look at other airlines that this is not all of that.

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.

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