Southwest Airlines says it will trim back its December flight schedule in an attempt to avoid the meltdowns that have characterized operations over the last few months.
Southwest Announces Preemptive Flight Cancellations As Precautionary Measure
While the plan was for its fourth quarter schedule to be down only 5% from 2019 levels, Southwest now says it will modify its schedule in avoid a snowball effect when bad weather or other disruptions hit its network. The result will be a paring back of the December schedule which will ultimately mean the fourth quarter schedule will be down 8% from 2019 levels.
Southwest continues to insist, publicly at least, that its most recent operational meltdown was caused by bad weather in Florida. But while bad weather in Florida did lead to flight disruptions, it was Southwest’s lack of backup staffing that ultimately doomed operations for several days after, leading to thousands of flight cancellations and delays.
Yesterday during a third quarter earnings call, outgoing CEO Gary Kelly took the blame on himself, admitting “I would be the first to admit that things are messy…I pushed a little too hard there in the third quarter with capacity.” He also admitted, albeit vaguely, that the problem goes beyond bad weather:
“And the burden to manage through all of this falls to our people and we’ve gone from not enough to do to too much to do in a very short period of time.”
With the reduction in flight schedules and fuel prices rising, expect higher prices for airfare. Incoming CEO Bob Jordan shared that after a brief dip in bookings due to Delta-variant COVID-19 concerns, leisure and business bookings have returned:
“The resurge in COVID cases cost the quarter about $300 million, and that aside, the quarter would have been solidly profitable. As cases have come down and subsided, booking trends have recovered nicely on both the leisure and the business front and booking trends for the holidays are in line with 2019.”
Jordan also added that Southwest is in the process of hiring more than 5,000 additional employees.
Southwest Airlines will trim its schedule in December in hopes of avoiding the sort of operational meltdown that has continued all summer and into autumn. The carrier puts on an optimistic face for the future, but its path forward remains unclear until its employee backlog is filled.