The holiday travel chaos continued to worsen this week, with major flight cancellations or delays across the U.S. due to harsh winter storms. Among them, Southwest Airlines (LUV-US) received the most criticism, canceling more than 60% of its flights on Tuesday (27th) and Wednesday as most airlines began to resume flights.
Southwest’s cancellations on Tuesday accounted for more than 50% of all U.S. domestic flight cancellations and stranded more passengers, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.
Airline analysts and industry experts point to Southwest’s outdated scheduling system and atypical approach to mapping its flight network as part of the crisis.
Airline analyst Helane Becker said nearly every major airline today uses a “hub-and-spoke” network, a design in which a company’s planes gather at a central location, fly out to one or two locations, and then return to other locations. main airport.
Becker likens the approach to a bicycle tire, with a hub in the middle and spokes extending out and away from the middle.
Henry Harteveldt pointed out that this approach allows airlines to stop individual travel routes during severe weather with as little impact as possible. But Southwest still operates a “point-to-point” network, and its planes rarely return to a central location, but instead fly from one point to another.
Sanford C. Bernstein airline analyst David Vernon noted that the point-to-point system allows for increased aircraft utilization during normal operations, but could cause widespread disruption during the winter months. It could have knock-on effects for the airline’s future flights across the country, as evidenced by this week’s near-country cancellations by Southwest Airlines.
Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said the company was using outdated technology and processes from the 1990s that couldn’t keep up with the complexities of today’s networks. Chief executive Bob Jordan acknowledged that the company needed to upgrade its legacy aviation systems.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said that according to Southwest Airlines union leaders, they have been sounding the alarm for some time about technical problems with the Southwest Airlines system. He criticized that the scale of the company’s cancellations clearly crossed the line from weather conditions beyond its control to the airline’s direct responsibility.
Buttigieg said he has spoken to Jordan and believes the airline has a responsibility to make sure this doesn’t happen again, and that the airline should provide refunds, meals and accommodation for those stranded.