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Southwest Airlines Contends with Ongoing Tech Woes

You Are Now Free to Move About the Complaint Queue

In the wake of technical issues, hundreds of Southwest Airlines flights were delayed on Tuesday, 18 April 2023. The widespread service disruptions prompted the Dallas-based airline to temporarily halt flight operations.

Southwest set forth that the delays and an ensuing, FAA-mandated ground stop had been occasioned by “data connection issues resulting from a firewall failure.”

Though brief and initiated by the Federal Aviation Administration at Southwest Airlines’ request, the aforementioned ground stop was at once burdensome to passengers and embarrassing to the beleaguered air-carrier.

In a statement, FAA spokesman Dan Landson set forth: “Early this morning, a vendor-supplied firewall went down and connection to some operational data was unexpectedly lost.”

Online tracking services showed that just after 12:00 EST on 18 April, Southwest delayed 1,820 flights (43-percent of the day’s schedule). Notwithstanding the daunting number of delays, only nine of the affected flights were canceled—a boon Southwest attributed to the skill and professionalism of its personnel, which the airline stated “worked quickly to minimize disruptions.”

In a social media post to its customers, Southwest referred to the 18 April flight delays as “intermittent technology issues,” stating: “We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, but we’re hoping to get everyone going ASAP.”

Tuesday’s upheaval came scant months after Southwest was forced to cancel upwards of 16,700 flights between 20 and 29 December 2022. The airline ascribed its holiday season meltdown, in part, to a malfunction of a staff scheduling computer system.

Southwest’s December 2022 woes were worsened by a massive winter storm, the occurrence of which corresponded unluckily with the busy holiday travel season. The airline’s troubles were compounded by an archaic crew scheduling system that left Southwest unable to staff key locations. Ergo, addled by inclement weather and antiquated digital infrastructure, Southwest Airlines suffered the indignity of having to cancel nearly half its scheduled flights during the 2022 winter holiday season. On some days within the 20 to 29 December timeframe, as many as 75-percent of Southwest’s scheduled flights were grounded.

In addition to blizzards and computer breakdowns, Southwest’s shabby December 2022 showing derived of the weird fact that SWA crew-members wishing to notify the airline of developments germane to flight operations were obligated to do so by telephone, rather than corresponding with the airline digitally.

Speaking to the subject of Southwest’s most recent operational breakdown, Senator Maria Cantwell (Democrat, Washington State) opined: “This is another demonstration that Southwest Airlines needs to upgrade their systems and stop the negative impacts to individual travelers.”

Cantwell, who chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, led a 09 February 2023 committee hearing during which she questioned Southwest’s chief operating officer Andrew Watterson.

Tomasz Pawliszyn, CEO of passenger advocacy company AirHelp, cited the ripple effect, suggesting that problems occurring at one airport within the U.S. National Airspace System invariably impact both flight and ground operations at other airports within subject system. Mr. Pawliszyn stated: “Customers booking air travel want to book with certainty that their travel experience will be smooth and undisturbed. While many passengers look to Southwest for cost-effective flights, if the chances of a disruption are seemingly higher, the cost savings are no longer an advantage. Mass cancellations like today are rare, but if these become more common occurrences, then passengers could certainly develop preferences for other airlines.”

Southwest Airlines’ 52-year history has been punctuated by technical breakdowns. Over the last decade, company leaders, including former CEO Gary Kelly and current CEO Bob Jordan, pledged technology upgrades and vowed repeatedly to improve the air-carrier’s computer and data-management architectures.

Mr. Jordan asserted during a recent interview that his company would “develop an action plan to make sure that [a disruption] never happens again.”

In March 2023, Southwest made public the action plan to which Jordan alluded.

“We’re still working on the final report from Oliver Wyman and combining it with the internal reviews and the board review,” Mr. Jordan conceded, adding: “We wanted to be transparent and quick in getting the information out there.”

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg weighed in on Southwest’s difficulties, stating in a tweet: “We [the DOT] are watching to ensure that Southwest Airlines takes care of all passengers who were affected by their technical problems this morning. Any customer not getting the accommodations or refunds they are owed should notify us through our website, and we’ll follow up.”



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