The operational problems at Southwest Airlines can be traced back to the snowstorm
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The Hawaiian Airlines official called it an isolated and unusual incident that left 11 people seriously injured.
The union says the airline operated more than 500 empty flights to reposition planes – and it contends the aircraft could have carried passengers. More than 10,000 pilots rode in passenger seats, headed to another assignment in a choreography the union called “inefficient.”
Jim Ireland, director of Honolulu Emergency Medical Services, said 36 people were treated for nausea or minor injuries. He said there were 20 people taken to hospitals and 11 were in serious condition.
There were no deaths and no critical injuries, so we feel very fortunate. And we’re also very hopeful that all will recover and make a full recovery,” Ireland said.
When the turbulence hit, the passenger’s mother did not have enough time to put on her safety belt.
Snook said he could only speculate whether some passengers hit their heads, but that was likely based on the injuries and the damage to cabin paneling.
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The National Weather Service had a weather advisory in place for storms that would have taken the flight path at the time of the incident.
The airline was aware of the weather forecast and the unstable air and weather conditions, but had no warning the particular patch of air where the turbulence occurred “was in any way dangerous,” Snook said.
He didn’t know how much altitude the plane lost during the turbulence, saying that would be part of an investigation involving the National Transportation Safety Board. The plane’s flight data recorder would provide those details, he said.
The crew declared an emergency after the turbulence and the A330 began its descent, he said. The flight was given priority to land.
The investigation will examine what other measures were taken, aside from turning on the fasten seatbelt sign, to ensure passengers were buckled in, he said.
Southwest said in a statement it hoped for minimal disruptions during the New Year’s weekend.
That failure has attracted the attention of Congress. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation would look into the causes of the disruptions and their impact on customers, according to a statement released by the chair of the committee.
For Southwest passenger Taylor McClain, 34, the saga started last Thursday, when his morning flight from Salt Lake City into Chicago Midway was canceled. He rebooked for a 3 p.m. that didn’t end up departing until 9 p.m.
It has been more terrifying for McClain to come back to Utah. He was going to leave Chicago on Monday. It was canceled, that’s right. Now, the soonest he’s been able to reschedule is for Thursday night.
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At least he’s lucky to be with his parents, but “I will burn multiple days of unplanned vacation and absorb four days worth of extra kennel fees for the dog I can’t get back to,” he says.
A large segment of Americans only fly once a year and want a hassle-free experience. Dengler thinks many people will pause when booking their next flight, and that they will look at Southwest Airlines as the cheapest option.
Helane Becker, an aviation analyst with Cowen, an investment bank and financial services company, says Southwest needs to bring those tools, in the form of internal software systems, up to date.
Southwest ended up with planes that were ready to take off with available crew, but the company’s scheduling software wasn’t able to match them quickly and accurately, Watterson added.
“I mean, it’s just par for the course. Everyone is trying to get everywhere at the same time. Unfortunately, Southwest took the brunt of this year’s travel unfortunate situation,” Roderic Hister told CNN.
The pilots at Southwest go to one city and then fly to two, three, four, five, six other cities. There’s a flight crew change somewhere in there, and then it flies one or two more legs across the country and spend the night,” Bangs says.
As a result, “when you get a weather situation like this, you have all sorts of pilots and flight attendants that can no longer get to where they need to be, because quite often flight crews are not based at the same city or they don’t live at the same city that they’re based out of,” she says. Everything tends to get out of position when there’s bad weather.
The vice president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association spoke to CNN. Mike Santoro, said the problems facing Southwest were the worst disruptions he’d experienced in 16 years at the airline.
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A person who lives with his wife and two children in Denver is one of the passengers. The family was visiting New York City, where they were celebrating together — a wedding anniversary and his daughter’s birthday.
The family was able to leave on the 21st and would be home on Christmas Eve. Lenz checked his phone to make sure everything was okay before they left.
It wasn’t good. The flight was canceled. He was unable to reach an agent on the phone. He used the app on his phone to rebook. He was able to reach an agent on Monday. He asked, “Do you think this is going to be resolved by the time we fly out?”
The agent reassured him, and even moved the flight to the 27th. “But that’s when the flights started to get canceled,” he says.
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The family decided to rent a car and travel back to Denver in 26 hours. It’s 13 hours from here and 13 hours from Denver to the place halfway through Illinois. So our goal is to take a quick breather at the hotel and then pick it up again so we can be there Thursday night,” Lenz says.
Southwest has owned up to its problems, as bad as they have been for the company and its customers. “From a PR perspective, they’re out in front,” she says. They’re saying they are buying meals for people and putting people in hotel rooms. They’re doing their best to get you where you need to go. They’re reimbursing you. They’re buying tickets on other airlines.”
Potter says the airlines’ failures mean their customers pay the price. And that will continue as long as the carriers are allowed to “keep running these razor thin margins where mass delays and cancellations [are] just a storm or a mechanics strike or an IT software issue away.”
So far, the numbers appear to back up Southwest’s promise. FlightAware , the flight tracking service, showed that only 39 Southwest Friday flights have been canceled as of 6 a.m. ET Friday.
The mass cancellations have travelers at airports waiting in line for two or more hours to rebook their new flights, which, unfortunately, won’t occur anytime soon. A number of passengers report not getting new flights until the end of this week or after the New Year, forcing them to sleep on airport floors while they wait.
“No amount of financial compensation can fully make up for passengers who missed moments with their families that they can never get back—Christmas, birthdays, weddings, and other special events,” the transportation secretary wrote. It is essential for Southwest to reimburse passengers for the costs that can be measured in dollars and cents.
Southwest is struggling with a staffing shortage in some places, due to the snowstorm. An unusual amount of absences made the airline declare a state of operational emergency at the Denver airport. In a leaked memo to employees, Southwest Airlines says staff members will need a doctor’s note when calling out sick, and that it “will use mandatory overtime” to require employees to come into work or otherwise be fired. As noted by the Denver Post, Southwest spokesperson Chris Perry denied that the callouts were part of a coordinated effort from employees.
Relief is still a few days away for passengers booked with Southwest Airlines this week, as the beleaguered airline continues to grapple with what US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has referred to as a complete meltdown of the system.
Denver International, Chicago Midway International, Baltimore/Washington International, Dallas Love Field and Nashville International are the airports most affected by the Wednesday cancellation.
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As CNN previously reported, Buttigieg spoke with Jordan on Tuesday and warned him that he would hold the airline accountable after its operational meltdown put the Dallas-headquartered company under serious scrutiny.
I made clear that we would hold them accountable for their responsibilities to customers and also make sure that this wouldn’t happen again.
There were long lines at Southwest ticket counter at multiple US airports Tuesday, while passengers struggled to get their luggage back at airports including Chicago’s Midway International, which was overrun by huge piles of unclaimed bags.
Passenger Trisha Jones told CNN at the airport in Atlanta that she and her partner had been traveling for five days, trying to get home to Wichita, Kansas, after disembarking from a cruise at Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Jones said that they were able to rent a car and go to see their family for Christmas because they were in Fort Lauderdale. “We’ve seen a lot of families who are sleeping on the floor, and it just breaks my heart.”
The secretary wants Southwest to give refunds and expense reimbursement to passengers who need it without them having to ask.
“The Department will use the fullest extent of its investigative and enforcement powers to hold Southwest accountable if it fails to adhere to the promises made to reimburse passengers for costs incurred for alternate transportation.”
“While all of the other parts of the aviation system have been moving toward recovery and getting better each day, it’s actually been moving the opposite direction with this airline,” said Buttigieg.
While Jordan acknowledged problems with the company response, the statement suggested that he did not foresee massive changes to Southwest’s procedures in response to the mass cancellations.
“The tools we use to recover from disruption serve us well 99% of the time, but clearly we need to double-down on our already-existing plans to upgrade systems for these extreme circumstances so that we never again face what’s happening right now,” said Jordan.
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“Your odds of even finding a seat at an even halfway decent price on an airline in the country are going to get smaller by the hour, as all of the airlines are jam-packed right now,” Potter said.
“Travelers in the thick of this should be sure to save all their receipts: other flights, a rental car, nights at the hotel, meals, anything,” Potter said.
If you’ve been left in the lurch and your efforts to reach a customer service agent are going nowhere, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights suggests trying an international number.
The main hotline for US airlines will be busy as passengers are rebooking. To get through to an agent quickly, call any one of the airline’s dozens of international offices,” Scott Keyes said.
“If you’ve already left, you should take care of yourself, do what you can to support your family, keep your receipts,” said McVay. “We will make sure they are taken care of, that is not a question.”
“What went wrong is that our IT infrastructure for scheduling software is vastly outdated,” he said. The system can’t handle all of the flight attendants and pilots we have in it.
“We don’t have the normal hub the other major airlines do. We fly a point-to-point network so we can put crews in the wrong places.
Passengers flying between small cities for United, American and Delta have to change planes. That model has an advantage of rapid flying crews and planes out of the hub to where they are needed.
Jeffrey Windau, senior analyst of equity research for Edward Jones, said that when they have cancellations in one area it really ripples through, because they don’t necessarily have their crews and pilots in the right positions. “They just kind of build on from city to city to city, and when that gets disrupted, it’s very difficult to get the operations flowing smoothly again.”
Southwest should have more than adequate crew resources to handle the increased activity that comes with the two thirds reduction in flights.
Watterson noted that manual scheduling left Southwest building an incredibly delicate house of cards that could quickly tumble when the company encountered a problem.
Watterson said that they would make great progress, and then some other disruptions would happen, and it would affect their work. We spent several days where we were close to finishing the problem and then the problem had to be reset.
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Wall Street expressed concern that the debacle could cause a financial hardship for Southwest. Investors sold off the stock, erasing $2 billion in market value from the company’s shares over the course of a week. The airline’s stock price bounced back nearly 3% Thursday, but remains down about 9% since the closing price on December 23, just before the mass cancellations.
A Southwest executive said in a Thursday morning message to customers that the airline is making “a pledge to do everything we can and to work day and night to repair our relationship with you.”
“We are encouraged by the progress we’ve made to realign crew, their schedules and our fleet,” it said. The statement said that they know their deepest apologies to their customers, employees, and those affected by the disruption only go so far.
Everyone is wondering if Southwest can deliver. As air traffic increases on Friday, the picture will get a lot clearer.
The company would benefit from that, since it would cut down on luggage and make travel easier for passengers. It’s got a mark on its back.
A group of top US government officials are not happy about how Southwest got to this point in the aftermath of a huge winter storm, that all other major US airlines had under control days ago.
In a statement released Thursday — following another bruising day in which a further 2,362 flights were canceled — Southwest said it hoped for minimal disruptions over the New Year’s weekend.
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In his letter Buttigieg said it would be an unfair and deceptive practice to not fulfill this commitment to passengers.
Ryan Green, the airline’s chief commercial officer, offered his regrets over the collapse of services and promised to rebuild customer relations.
Green apologized in a video that was released Thursday and said he would make things right after many plans changed.
Buttigieg’s remarks, which came after apologies from airline CEO Jordan, came as he criticized Southwest’s troubles.
People at the Atlanta International Airport spoke to CNN about their experiences with Southwest.
Hister said that the improvements that Southwest was trying to make may speak to the lack of lines at the airport. So, maybe you know, the efforts to redeem themselves are working.”
The airline describes an internal process that requires multiple departments to manually re-design the airline’s schedule, a system that works the majority of the time.
When something goes wrong with Southwest’s software, they leave a lot of the work of rebuilding the network to be done manually.
Elaine Chao, who served as secretary of transportation during the Trump administration, described the Southwest Airlines breakdown as “a failure of unbelievable proportions.”
She told CNN it was “a perfect storm of all the things that have been going on with the company. It will take them a long time to rebuild trust with consumers, she said.
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“Southwest says, ‘We will honor reasonable requests for reimbursement for meals, hotel and alternate transportation,'” he said. I would not stay at any expensive hotels or restaurants even if Southwest was vague about how much they would reimburse. You can use the internet to find nearby hotels near the airport.
“Do a lot of internet searches, such as “free things to do near me.” I don’t believe Southwest will reimburse tours or other paid activities so I wouldn’t book them for you.
The pilots’ union is prepared to characterize the operation as held together by “duct tape,” while Southwest’s chief operating officer is expected to apologize and say the airline “is intensely focused on reducing the risk of repeating the operational disruption.”
The union has evidence showing a message sent to a cockpit computer in the midst of the meltdown asking what crew is on the plane.
Southwest Airlines pilots are going to present testimony at a Senate Commerce committee hearing in which they plan to show a photograph of the airline breakdown. (The message and others are seen in all capital letters, standard for this type of cockpit display.)
The cockpit computer message to pilots did not mention anything about updates. We were told that we weren’t allowed to walk over and talk to them.
Southwest executive Andrew Watterson, as well as Southwest pilot union president CASEY Murray, the airlines for America trade group, and Paul Hudson, an economist, are among those who will be questioned by lawmakers.
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“Since 2011, SWA has averaged one major operational failure every 18 months,” the testimony says. There were warnings that were ignored. Poor performance was condoned. Excuses were made. Processes atrophied. Core values were not remembered.
CNN obtained a copy of Watterson’s testimony, which included an apology to travelers and employees. It shows he is prepared to say the difficulty of recovering from the storm “created an unprecedented amount and frequency of required changes to Crew schedules that overwhelmed our Crew Scheduling processes and technology.”
A scheduling software update is one of the things Southwest is testing, as is a new team in its command center.
When the FAA grounded all departures due to their own computer failure, the airline had an opportunity to test some of the new measures, according to Watterson.
The airline gave stock options to executives after the crash, but employees lost profits because of the financial hit. The airline agreed to give some employee groups hardship pay.