Southwest – How To Avoid Another Billion-Dollar Holiday Meltdown

By Spyros Georgilidakis | November 24, 2023

It’s that time of the year again, and all eyes are on Southwest, following last year’s holiday meltdown. So, what has changed in 12 months?

Southwest – How To Avoid Another Billion-Dollar Holiday Meltdown
Photo: Miguel Angel Sanz

Last month, a snowstorm hit the Denver region. Denver’s airport is a major hub for many airlines in the US and elsewhere. Southwest handled this disruption with minimal issues – and in the eyes of some, this was a low-level test of its preparations.

In case you’ve forgotten, Southwest suffered a record-breaking meltdown in its operations for almost a week, last December. Approximately two million customers faced flight cancelations, in nearly 17,000 flights.

Southwest – How To Avoid Another Billion-Dollar Holiday Meltdown
Photo: Lukas Souza

Understandably, the meltdown attracted a lot of public scrutiny, with Southwest still looking at the prospect of a civil fine. The event also raised awareness of how other airlines are preparing for testing times – either seasonal demand or weather-related disruptions. Or, as was the case for Southwest last year, both.

Southwest – The Legacy of a Meltdown

This year, Southwest is adamant that it will avoid a repeat of last December’s meltdown, thanks to a range of changes. A key factor in how the meltdown snowballed was a troublesome scheduling system – or rather a combination of systems, each with its own problems and limitations.

Photo: Lukas Souza

The airline was heavily criticized for avoiding or neglecting to update its systems for quite some time, before these events. It has now. But Southwest has also been addressing the triggering factor of last year’s meltdown, which was its weather preparations.

A lack of airport staff, plus equipment that failed at bases that suffered badly in the cold weather, were key in setting off the Southwest meltdown last year. The airline is addressing these factors by introducing cold weather training for ramp personnel.

Photo: Lukas Souza

Southwest is also bringing in more staff in Denver and Chicago, both of which suffered last December. More trucks and de-icing pads are being made available where necessary as well. The airline is confident that it is ready for what’s coming.

And it seems that all this is working in at least one respect: reservations. Despite last year’s meltdown, the $1 billion costs, and the outcry that followed, Southwest now has more reservations for this year’s December than last year. Which seems quite impressive.


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