Home News Frustration mounts as flight cancellations cause delays for Southwest passengers

Frustration mounts as flight cancellations cause delays for Southwest passengers

Frustration mounts as flight cancellations cause delays for Southwest passengers

Southwest Airlines hspans cspannceled hundreds of its flights in and out of Florida this week ― and officials are warning that customers should expect more of them in the coming days.

In a videotaped statement, Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan said the airline plans to operate on a reduced schedule ― in some cases as few as one-third of its scheduled flights, the airline said ― as it attempts to reposition employees and aircraft stalled by extreme winter weather nationwide.

The cutbacks are expected to last for days, although Southwest says it hopes to return to service “with minimal disruptions” by the weekend.

“With our large fleet of airplanes and flight crews out of position in dozens of locations, and after days of trying to operate as much of our full schedule across the busy holiday weekend, we reached a decision point to significantly reduce our flying to catch up,” Jordan said. “We’re focused on safely getting all of the pieces back into position to end this rolling struggle.”

A Southwest Airlines jet arrives at Sky Harbor International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Phoenix. Travelers who counted on Southwest Airlines to get them home suffered another wave of canceled flights Wednesday, and pressure grew on the federal government to help customers get reimbursed for unexpected expenses they incurred because of the airline’s meltdown.

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The Dallas-based airline has become synonymous with Florida travel for many people flying in and out of the state. It is the No. 1 airline at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and Orlando International Airport, the No. 3 at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood and the No. 5 at Palm Beach International.  More than 1.1 million passengers were expected to travel in December at the four airports, according to recent statistics.

One of the nation’s most popular airlines, Southwest canceled about 8,000 flights nationwide in the three days after Christmas and was expecting thousands more into the coming weekend. On Dec. 28 alone, Southwest canceled 403 flights at Florida’s major airports, accounting for more than half of the disruptions there, according to FlightAwspanre, a website that tracks airline performance in real time.

Orlando and Tampa led the count with 118 and 106 cancellations that day, respectively, followed by Fort Lauderdale with 77, according to FlightAware.

In fact, Southwest represented nearly all the cancellations at most Florida airports that day:

  • 30 at Miami International, for 78% of all canceled arrivals and departures.
  • 24 at Sarasota-Bradenton International, for 71%.
  • 18 at Jacksonville International, for 81%.
  • 10 at Palm Beach International, for 71%.

In Sarasota, Southwest, the airport’s No. 1 carrier representing 28% of its flights, canceled 24 flights, totaling 71% of all grounded departures and arrivals that day. In Jacksonville, the 18 cancellations represented 81%, and the 30 canceled in Miami marked 78 percent of the disruptions there.

An employee of Southwest Airlines checks unclaimed and rerouted luggage, Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022, at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, in Fort Lauderdale. A brutal winter storm has caused major delays in air travel across the U.S.

Southwest’s problems stem in part from the way it operates, which differs from other major carriers. It flies from city to city instead of through “hub” airports, and needs to have pilots and flight crews available in those cities when schedule changes occur.

Union leaders also say the company is relying on scheduling technology that dates to the 1990s, and that it failed to efficiently match crews with flights when cancellations started to accumulate. Federal regulators are expected to investigate why the computer systems failed to work as expected. The U.S. Department of Transportation has called the delays and cancellations “unacceptable.”

Bob Mann of R.W. Mann & Co., an airline industry consultant and former airline executive, said Southwest was “already stretched thin when this weather event occurred, and the airline ran into problems when they demanded these overworked crews work even more overtime,” Mann said.

Mann also said Southwest did not have the tools to address the disruptions.

“It takes time to find crews that can fly,” he noted. “You eventually run out of time and throw your hands in the air and start cancelling flights. Ultimately, they have to replace the systems in place and not rely so much on overtime to operate. It is like operating on reserve continuously. There’s little margin for error.”

Southwest Airlines flights continue to show as cancelled at Midway International Airport Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Chicago.

Jordan described the airlines woes as a “giant puzzle” that will take several days to solve.

Jordan, Southwest’s CEO, said the airline will double down on its already existing plans to upgrade systems for these extreme circumstances so that the massive number of cancellations will not happen again.

“Southwest is the largest carrier in the country, not only because of our value and our values, but because we build our flight schedule around communities, not hubs, ” he said. “So, we’re the largest airline in 23 of the top 25 travel markets in the U.S. Cities where large numbers of scheduled flights simultaneously froze as record bitter cold brought challenges for all airlines. Our network is highly complex and the operation of the airline counts on all the pieces, especially aircraft and crews remaining in motion to where they’re planned to go.”

Travelers are urged to track their flights before leaving their homes for airports. Southwest also has created a page on its website where they can rebook travel or request a refund: Southwest.com/trspanveldisruption. The airline also is trying to help passengers recover lost or missing baggage.

Southwest snapshot

Flight cancellations at Florida airports on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, and the percentage of all cancellations at that airport Southwest’s decisions comprised.

  • Orlando: 118, 49% 
  • Tampa: 106, 73%
  • Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood: 82, 71%
  • Southwest Florida: 42, 75%
  • Miami: 30, 78%
  • Jacksonville: 18, 81%
  • Palm Beach: 10, 71%
  • Pensacola: 7, 63%


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