Southwest Hopes to Avoid Another Meltdown with Upgrades to Equipment and Staffingby Daniel McCarthy /
After canceling more than 16,000 flights during the last 10 days of 2022 because of operational missteps during Winter Storm Elliott, Southwest Airlines says its investing $1.3 billion to ensure it never happens again.
Southwest CEO this week, in a filing ahead of its presentation at the J.P. Morgan Industrials Conference, said that the carrier is planning a major investment
Southwest, in its filing, introduces a three-prong “Tactical Action Plan” that it hopes will help it avoid another major meltdown similar to the one it experienced in December 2022 when Winter Storm Elliot thwarted its normal operations forced it to cancel thousands of flights across the U.S.
The plan calls for Southwest to:
- Improve Winter Operations – the carrier says it will increase the number of available deicing trucks, procure more deicing pads and equipment, implement new weather applications to enhance deicing holdover times, and boost its winter staffing levels.
- Enhance Cross-Team Collaboration – Southwest will improve “alignment between Network Planning and Network Operation Control, " improving alerting and decision-support tools.
- Accelerate Other Investments – upgrade Skysolver software, its flight operation programming, and improve staff communication.
Ultimately, Southwest says it will spend $1.3 billion on the upgrades and maintenance of its IT systems, including upgrading that crew scheduling software and phone system, two things that failed during that December holiday travel period.
It hopes that the deicing upgrades, the better communication among its crew, and the other upgrades will help it avoid another December situation.
“We understand the root causes that led to the holiday disruption, and we’re validating our internal review with the third-party assessment. Now, we expect to mitigate the risk of an event of this magnitude ever happening again,” Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said in a news release.
“Work is well underway implementing action items to prepare for next winter—with some items already completed.”
Southwest says that it is already on pace to improve operational performance prior to this announcement.
According to the filing, Southwest ranks second overall in on-time performance for U.S. carriers since 2023 began, just about one percent below Delta. That’s up four spots from 2022. It also says that nearly 50% of flyers impacted by the “December operational disruption” have since booked or flown on Southwest and that its Rapid rewards membership is growing above the pace of its trailing 12-month average.