Southwest Airlines says antiquated computer systems and ‘tedious’ manual processes have hindered its ability to recover quickly from an operational meltdown that has stranded tens of thousands of passengers with little sign of improvement on the horizon.
In an internal call with tired and frustrated employees, Southwest’s beleaguered chief executive Bob Jordan said the carrier had faced “a very tough day” on Tuesday and admitted that the next few days were also likely to be incredibly difficult.
In a leaked transcript of the call first obtained by aviation insider JonNYC, chief operating officer Andrew Watterson admitted that Southwest’s “delicate” crew network effectively ground to a halt because its existing technology couldn’t match up legal crew members with available aircraft.
“We had people that were legal. We had aircraft that were available, but the process of matching up those crew members with the aircraft could not be handled by our technology,” Watterson explained.
“In our desired state, we have a solver (an IT program) that would be able to do that very quickly and very accurately. Our system today cannot do that,” Watterson continued.
Instead, crew schedulers were forced to match legal crew and available aircraft manually – a process that Watterson admits is “extraordinarily difficult” and a “tedious, long process”.
And just when schedulers thought they were making progress, another part of the network would be disrupted and “it would unravel their work”.
“We, we spent multiple days where we kind of got close to finishing the problem, and then it had to be reset,” Watterson said by way of explanation for Monday’s meltdown that resulted in Southwest axing nearly 3,000 flights or around 71 per cent of its total schedule.
In order to get back on top of things, the airline now says it plans only to fly around one-third of scheduled flights for the next few days at least, as it works to get crew and aircraft back into position and rebuild legal rosters.
Jordan, who has largely stayed out of the media glare throughout the meltdown, claims “all hands are on deck” to work through crew scheduling issues but that “dramatic action” to slash the schedule is necessary to reset the network and get things back on track.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.