The Feds Think Southwest Scheduled Too Many Flights During 2022's Travel Meltdown

Image:  Kevin Dietsch (Getty Images)
Image: Kevin Dietsch (Getty Images)

The Southwest travel drama at the end of 2022 took place just over a month ago, but the airline is still feeling the ripple effects from thousands of canceled flights. Customers and the government alike want answers about just what went wrong. Now, as The Dallas Morning News reports, the Department of Transportation is investigating Southwest to see if the airline over-scheduled flights during the 2022 holiday season. The airline maintains that its cancellations were due to weather and technological issues.

The agency has already been investing the airline over the flight cancellations and ensuing chaos in December 2022, so this look into scheduling is an extension of an ongoing investigation. Basically, DOT believes that Southwest scheduled so many flights that its ability to actually field them all became “unrealistic,” as a spokesperson for the agency told The Morning News:

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DOT is also probing whether Southwest executives engaged in unrealistic scheduling of flights which under federal law is considered an unfair and deceptive practice. DOT will leverage the full extent of its investigative and enforcement power to ensure consumers are protected.

Southwest is pushing back, saying that a combination of cold weather at various airports and over-taxed internal systems was to blame for the cancellations, as a spokesperson for Southwest pointed out:

Our holiday flight schedule was thoughtfully designed and offered to our customers with the backing of a solid plan to operate it, and with ample staffing. Our systems and processes became stressed while working to recover from multiple days of flight cancellations across 50 airports in the wake of an unprecedented storm. We’re acutely focused on learning from this event, mitigating the risk of a repeat occurrence, and delivering the hospitality and outstanding service our customers expect from us.

Southwest claims it was so cold at airports like Chicago’s O’Hare and Denver International that ground crews couldn’t be deployed. This is turn delayed flights in their scheduling system. That in turn proved to be too much for the system’s software to keep up with.

Southwest claims have dragged GE Digital into its mess, as it’s the one that designed the system. A spokesperson for GE Digital defended the company’s software against Southwest’s claims, saying, “The GE Digital tool that is integrated into Southwest’s systems performed as designed throughout the event, and we are working with them to define new functionality as they improve their crew rescheduling capability.”

Whatever the reason turns out to be, people are still mad, and Southwest expects to take a significant hit from the chaos. The airline estimates that after lost revenue, customer refunds, reimbursements, payments to passengers and employees affected, flight credits, and company worker bonuses, it may lose between $725 million and $825 million after the dust settles.

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