Inadequate technology systems offer one explanation why a brutal winter storm turned into a debacle. Amazingly, Paul Krugman gets things mostly right.
13 HOURS AGO
Southwest Cancels Another 4,800 Flights
After canceling roughly 13,000 flights in the last few days, the airline is planning to remain on a reduced flying schedule for a few more days, its CEO said in a statement late Tuesday.
All domestic airlines have returned to pre-storm delay and cancellation levels after being knocked off-kilter late last week by a severe winter storm. Yet Southwest Airlines, plagued by staffing shortages and an outdated scheduling system, is still paralyzed.
Understanding the Meltdown
The Wall Street Journal explains How Southwest Airlines Melted Down.
When Southwest Airlines Co. reassigns crews after flight disruptions, it typically relies on a system called SkySolver. This Christmas, SkySolver not only didn’t solve much, it also helped create the worst industry meltdown in recent memory.
SkySolver was overwhelmed by the scale of the task of sorting out which pilots and flight attendants could work which flights, Southwest executives said. Crew schedulers instead had to comb through records by hand.
Some shared screenshots on social media that showed hold times of eight hours or more—which meant they could wait a full workday for instructions while flights were stuck for the lack of a crew. The airline was scrambling just to figure out where its crew members were located, union leaders said.
It canceled more than 13,000 flights since Thursday, stranded passengers and bags across the country, snarled Southwest’s crew members and drew fire from federal officials.
Southwest’s pilots union for years complained that SkySolver often spits out fixes that don’t make much sense, sending crews on circuitous journeys around the country as passengers to meet flights, a practice known as “deadheading.”
By Monday, Southwest executives realized they needed a full reboot. In an effort to get pilots, flight attendants and planes into position, the airline took more draconian measures. It canceled close to two-thirds of its planned flights for multiple days, and locked up seat inventory on its website so customers couldn’t buy tickets for a flight that might ultimately be canceled.
Unlike many rival airlines, Southwest’s planes generally hop from one city to another, rather than orbiting a major hub. That approach lets Southwest maximize use of its planes and crew, but the daisy chain structure also makes its network more delicate—problems in one corner of the country can be difficult to contain, said Samuel Engel, senior vice president of aviation at consulting firm ICF International Inc.
Do nothing. Let the market sort it out.
What a concept.
Unpleasant for those caught up in the here and now, but one of Southwest’s attractions is low cost.
Works most of the time but the downside is that occasionally duds occur.