Southwest Airlines says it has “no confirmation” of a viral rumor that the carrier plans to effectively ground its entire fleet to passengers on Tuesday as it seeks to reset after a disastrous operational meltdown that has upended travel plans for tens of thousands of passengers for days on end.
The disruption continued on Monday as Southwest progressively slashed more than 70 per cent of its schedule throughout the day. The cancellation rate for Tuesday is already faring little better, with 2,433 flights or 60 per cent of Southwest’s planned schedule axed, according to data provided by Flight Aware.
Southwest has found itself in what some commentators have coined as an ‘armageddon’ situation, with aircraft and flight crews out of position and rostering systems in disarray. Some of Southwest’s problems are being blamed on its complex decentralized ‘line flying’ system.
But as Southwest continues to work to recover its operation, there are now rumors circulating that the carrier plans to “park the fleet” on Monday night and “regroup over the next few days”.
The rumor was shared by the ‘Overheard At Southwest‘ Twitter account, with a screenshot of an ‘ACARS’ message reportedly sent to Southwest aircraft.
The authenticity of the message has not been verified but the same account previously leaked a now-viral memo sent to rampers at the airline threatening employees with termination if they refused mandatory overtime or went sick without a doctor’s note obtained in person.
Such a dramatic move wouldn’t, however, be without precedent. Last August, Spirit was forced to perform what it described as a ‘reset’ of its operations after an operational meltdown scattered crew and aircraft out of position.
The airline struggled to recover its operations and was forced to proactively cancel flights in order to reposition crew and get on top of the situation. The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) said the reset operation was based on a hurricane recovery contingency plan.
In an internal memo, Southwest’s chief operating officer Andrew Watterson told staffers that the airline was planning to operate just one-third of planned flights over the next few days.
A Southwest spokesperson said the carrier was working to “urgently address wide-scale disruption by rebalancing the airline and repositioning Crews and our fleet ultimately to best serve all who plan to travel with us.”
“We anticipate additional changes with an already reduced level of flights as we approach the coming New Year holiday travel period,” the statement continued.
Southwest says it will be proactively cancelling flights over the next few days in an attempt to reduce last-minute’ inconveniences’.
But on Monday night, the Department of Transporation slammed Southwest’s response, saying it was “concerned by Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays” as well as reports of poor customer service.
“The Department will examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan,” a short statement from the DOT continued.
Lyn Montgomery, president of the TWU 556 union, which represents Southwest flight attendants was even more critical of her own airline’s response, saying it was “despicable” the way her members had been treated by Southwest.
“We know winter storms. And believe me, we know about stepping up and putting in long work hours when are called to do so; we are flight attendants,” Montgomery said.
“But at this point, the many years of failure by management, despite many unions’ demands to modernize, has left flight attendants fatigued, stranded, hungry and cold – on Christmas. This impacts lives and threatens safety for all”.
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.