Southwest cancellations: Four charts explain crisis


A severe winter last week canceled thousands of Southwest Airlines flights and caused a total breakdown of its flight systems. In the days since, the airline’s recovery efforts have been slow and, according to some passengers, largely unsuccessful. But experts say the Southwest mess is actually the culmination of years of accumulated problems.

The embattled airline has canceled more than half of its regular flight schedule since January 22, according to data from industry trackers FlightRadar24 and FlightAware. About 87 percent came from Southwest Airlines.

The harsh conditions angered passengers and Attract attention The impact of government regulators was amplified this week as other major airlines recovered from the extreme cold, snow and ice that gripped much of the U.S. over the holiday weekend.

The airline has apologized to passengers and employees for the daily cancellations and cut its capacity by about two-thirds on Thursday, according to a CNN review of flight data.

This week’s debacle isn’t the first time the company has been in this predicament. In October 2021, Southwest Airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights in four days. While the airline blamed bad weather in Florida in part for the crisis, Southwest has been canceling flights for far longer than its competitors.

But much of Southwest’s turmoil may be the result of long-term problems unrelated to the weather.

Chief among these are outdated internal processes and information technology. According to Capt. Kathy Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, Southwest’s dispatch system hasn’t changed much since the 1990s.

Southwest also acknowledged that the company’s infrastructure was outdated. “We’ve talked a lot about modernizing our business and the need to do that,” Chief Executive Bob Jordan told employees in a memo obtained by CNN.

The airline’s cancellation rate has been climbing for years, tripling from 2013 to September 2022, the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, which tracks airline performance, and well before the latest crisis.

The bureau only released data for 2022 through September. To ensure a fair comparison, CNN only analyzed the carrier’s data from January to September of previous years.

Airline cancellation rates fluctuate from year to year, depending on the weather and other factors such as Covid-19, which caused major disruption across the industry in the early months of the 2020 pandemic.

But Southwest has consistently underperformed its competitors when it comes to canceling flights, according to the bureau.

The data shows that the airline has had higher cancellation rates than other major airlines in several years of the past decade.

It’s not just cancellations. Southwest’s on-time performance has also slipped to a decade-low in recent years. Only about 7 out of 10 of the airline’s 10 flights will arrive on time through September 2022, before the airline’s current troubles.

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