March 20, 2023

On Thursday, Southwest Airways COO Andrew Watterson is because of testify earlier than a Senate committee to debate the cancellation of practically 16,700 flights in December.

David Zalubowski/AP

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David Zalubowski/AP

On Thursday, Southwest Airways COO Andrew Watterson is because of testify earlier than a Senate committee to debate the cancellation of practically 16,700 flights in December.

David Zalubowski/AP

One among Southwest Airways’ prime executives will seem earlier than a Senate committee on Thursday to debate the corporate’s celebratory crash and ship a transparent message to the general public: “We screwed up.”

In keeping with an affidavit obtained by NPR, Chief Working Officer Andrew Watterson will as soon as once more apologize for the December fiasco that noticed 16,700 U.S. flight cancellations and try to elucidate what precisely brought on the disaster for one of many nation’s largest carriers.

Officers mentioned a mix of harsh winter climate, employees shortages and technical points led to cancellations and delays which have stranded folks at airports throughout the nation and prevented them from touring for the vacations.

But it surely’s not clear why Southwest carried out so poorly at the same time as different airways recovered from the storm.

The fiasco sparked a wave of backlash from passengers and staff, triggered a Division of Transportation investigation, and price the corporate $825 million.

Now Southwest says it is doing an inner evaluation of what went improper and promising to repair it in entrance of shoppers. Watterson gives detailed account of the disaster as he prepares to talk at a Senate Commerce Committee listening to.

Worst-than-expected winter climate led to personnel issues

As ready by Watterson The robust winter storm on Dec. 21 was far worse than the airline had anticipated, forcing Southwest to cancel practically all of its flights for a number of days at Denver and Chicago, its two largest stations, the proof suggests.

1 / 4 of all Southwest flight crews begin and finish at these two airports, and the cancellations there have impacted flights elsewhere. In the meantime, the storm was transferring east and besieging different airports with related issues.

Communications between Southwest’s operations facilities shortly broke down and resulted in “composite, frequent, shut flight cancellations” reasonably than early cancellations with a lot discover to vacationers.

Crew planners could not deal with the domino impact of flight cancellations, and with out up-to-date schedules, Southwest’s crew planning software program could not reassign crews to understaffed flights.

In the end, “the disruption first highlighted the necessity to add performance” to our crew planning software program to handle the big variety of non-performing pair crews, Watterson says in ready feedback.

In the end, the corporate determined to “provisionally cancel” two-thirds of its flights from Dec. 27 to Dec. 29 with a purpose to resume operations and return to regular schedules by Dec. 30.

Southwest embarks on a seek for inner reflection and exterior steerage

For 2023 Watterson says Southwest the funds requires spending $1.3 billion of the corporate’s annual working plan on investments, upgrades, and IT system upkeep plans.

He additionally touts a number of mitigation measures he says are already within the works, together with enhancements to digital communications between crews and crew planning groups, a key shortcoming throughout a flight crash.

Operations personnel have additionally been strengthened to assist assist crew restoration efforts “on the first signal of a possible backlog”.

And the service has added extra flights in 2023, which officers say will make it simpler for patrons to rebook if and when flights are disrupted attributable to dangerous climate or different points.

Southwest can be in search of exterior recommendation.

Watterson says the airline has employed Oliver Wyman, a administration consulting agency, to make suggestions on find out how to enhance operations on dangerous climate days, amongst different issues. The 2 evaluations will decide “which sequence of enhancements is most applicable when it comes to supporting our prospects, staff and expertise infrastructure.”

The airline plans to think about the request of every particular person affected by the accident.

COO finishes his written testimony celebrating the steps taken by Southwest for the hundreds of shoppers affected by the unprecedented flight cancellation.

Southwest has spent a whole lot of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} satisfying all “cheap” private expense claims, together with lodge stays, automotive leases and meals. And as a gesture of goodwill, the airline has additionally given prospects 25,000 Speedy Rewards factors — roughly $300, based on the feedback. Baggage and baggage have been returned to their rightful house owners, in some instances with the assistance of third social gathering sellers.

“These actions are exterior the scope of relevant DOT necessities for airline reimbursement, baggage and journey bills within the occasion of a flight cancellation or vital delay by an airline,” says Watterson. “It was really an effort of all arms on deck and our folks won’t relaxation till all requests have been met.”

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