Southwest to make improvements to winter equipment, staffing following holiday meltdown

14 March 2023

Southwest Airlines pledged Tuesday to improve its winter operations and modernize its technology following a massive holiday meltdown that spurred the cancellation of nearly 17,000 flights and stranded scores of flyers.

In particular, the Dallas-based carrier plans to purchase more de-icing trucks, engine covers and heaters, as well as hire more winter staff.

Additionally, Southwest said it would invest more in its technology, budgeting $1.3 billion for upgrades, maintenance and other expenditures. The airline also pledged to upgrade crew scheduling systems and customer phone systems to handle higher call volumes.

Winter Storm Elliott — which caused blisteringly cold temperatures to sweep parts of the U.S. during the holiday travel season — created a cascade of problems for Southwest.

While most airlines swiftly recovered their operations following the storm, Southwest faced issues such as outdated technology and problems managing out-of-place crews that paved the way for widespread flight cancellations.

Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said at a JPMorgan investors conference Tuesday that the storm hindered Southwest’s operations in two of its key airports: Denver International Airport (DEN) and Chicago’s Midway International Airport (MDW).

“This ultimately strained our ability to keep up with the pace and the breadth of the disruptions,” Jordan explained.

Southwest is still reeling from its December debacle. For its 2023 first-quarter earnings, the airline forecasts a hit to revenue of up to $350 million, according to the carrier’s latest filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

That comes after the carrier reported a net loss of $220 million for the last quarter of 2022, as the meltdown cost Southwest $800 million in pretax income.

Congress is also investigating the meltdown. Andrew Watterson, Southwest’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer, testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in February.

Despite the losses incurred by the holiday calamity, Jordan said the carrier’s booking trends for the second quarter “appear solid,” with demand for leisure travel now closely mirroring pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

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