Last month, we looked at how air travel has become so complicated during the pandemic that people are turning to travel agents to make sense of the mess. But not even the most experienced agents could have prepared Southwest passengers for the problems that many encountered this past weekend. On Saturday the carrier cancelled more than 1,000 flights and then another 800 on Sunday, followed by 360 more cancellations and close to 1,000 delayed flights on Monday. Southwest apologized for the widespread inconvenience and claimed the issues had been “primarily created by weather and other external constraints, which left aircraft and crews out of pre-planned positions to operate our schedule on Saturday.”
According to experts, Southwest’s “point-to-point route network” makes the carrier susceptible to cancellation domino effects like the one that occurred last week. While most airlines route their planes to travel back and forth between two cities, Southwest schedules its planes more like buses, stopping from city to city along a progressing path. A plane starting in Miami can travel to Dallas followed by Albuquerque and finally on to Los Angeles, a system that works efficiently when there are no interruptions. But if the airport in Miami is understaffed and the original flight gets cancelled, that means Dallas, Albuquerque, and LA get cancelled, too.
It’s bad enough for Southwest if this happens with one route, but last week this same scenario repeated itself across the country as the carrier faced a pilot shortage coupled with an abundance of flights. “You screw up Florida, you screw up their whole network a whole lot more because it’s connected to the rest of their system,” said aviation analyst Mike Boyd. “Once it gets screwed up, airplanes are out of place, crews are out of place.” Over the following days, Southwest managed to sort out its tangled routes as the carrier now seeks to reestablish consumer trust during a tricky time.
- How did Southwest’s complicated route network contribute to the cancellation of thousands of flights?
- Do you think Southwest will face another big round of flight cancellations sometime in the future? Why or why not?
Source: Daniella Silva, “Why Southwest Airlines Could Be Vulnerable to Mass Disruptions,” NBC News, October 11, 2021. Photo by Kevin Dooley.