Southwest Airlines is evaluating “potential network schedule changes” to avoid a repeat of the widespread delays and cancellations it faced last weekend, president and COO Mike Van de Ven said in an apology letter posted on the carrier’s website.
The disruption, which resulted in more than 2,000 canceled flights over the holiday weekend, stemmed from weather and air traffic control delays in Florida on Friday that “cascaded throughout the weekend and into Monday and Tuesday,” Van de Ven said. The initial delays in Florida caused crew and aircraft to be out of their scheduled places, he said, which resulted in the additional delays and cancellations.
Other carriers did not have issues of a similar magnitude over the weekend, but Van de Ven said that was due to Southwest’s large footprint in Florida, through which as much as half of its total aircraft fly through on a given day. About a quarter of the carrier’s crew assignments include at least one stop in Florida, and they were particularly hit by a seven-hour closure on Friday at Orlando, which is one of Southwest’s largest crew bases, he said.
In addition to a schedule evaluation before the upcoming holiday season, Southwest is working to bulk up its workforce, with the goal of hiring 5,000 employees by the end of the year. The carrier currently is halfway to that goal, according to Van de Ven.
“We’ve said numerous times: The pandemic is unprecedented and extremely complex,” he said in the letter. “It was messy going into it, and it’s messy as we fight to emerge from it.”
Van de Ven also continued to dispute the persistent speculation, stoked by several U.S. Republican lawmakers, that the operational issues were related to Southwest’s recent announcement that it would follow federal requirements of instituting a Covid-19 vaccine mandate. The Federal Aviation Administration and Southwest’s pilots’ union also have disputed those rumors.
“There simply is nothing in our data that indicates that particular reason,” according to Van de Ven. “Our employees worked heroically in the midst of these adverse conditions, and many came in on off days, or flew additional trips, to help the airline recover.”
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