Southwest Senate assertion on vacation meltdown to announce options
A Southwest Airlines passenger plane lands at Chicago Midway International Airport in Chicago, Illinois on December 28, 2022.
Kamil Krzaczynski | AFP | Getty Images
Southwest Airlines plans to apologize before a Senate panel on Thursday for the airline’s December meltdown that left hundreds of thousands of travelers stranded around Christmas.
“In hindsight, we didn’t have enough resilience in winter operations,” Chief Operating Officer Andrew Watterson said in written testimony reviewed by CNBC ahead of the Senate Commerce Committee hearing.
Southwest canceled more than 16,700 flights between Dec. 21 and 31 as its crew scheduling software could not keep up with massive flight disruptions due to the brutal coast-to-coast winter weather. The debacle generated $800 million in pre-tax income and pushed the airline to a net loss in its most recent quarter.
Watterson plans to tell the committee that the airline has made short-term improvements to more easily communicate with crews when things go wrong and has improved tools to track the stability of operations.
With these mitigation tools, “we are confident in our flight network and schedules that we have published for sale,” Watterson plans to say, according to witness testimony. “Upgrading to Crew software will enable us to better manage recovery from a mass cancellation event.”
The committee chair, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., called the hearing as political pressure mounted over a spate of flight disruptions over the past year that have skyrocketed, if not derailed, travel expenses for thousands of consumers.
The legislature also has its sights set on airline fees. President Joe Biden wants to take action against seat fees, among other things, and mentioned the problem in his State of the Union address on Wednesday evening.
Southwest CEO Bob Jordan, a more than three-decade veteran with the airline who has been at the helm for a year, will not attend Thursday’s hearing. A spokesman said Jordan has previous commitments, including a staff event.
The hearing will also include testimony from Casey Murray, President of Southwest Pilots’ Union; Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president of legislative and regulatory policy at Airlines for America, an industry group representing the nation’s largest airlines; Paul Hudson, president of consumer rights group Flyers’ Rights; and Clifford Winston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.