Author Topic: What we can learn from Southwest - From Sully  (Read 3025 times)

Offline KB4TEZ

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What we can learn from Southwest - From Sully
« on: January 04, 2023, 02:28:31 PM »
From my LinkedIn Feed.

Real-world lessons about preparing for crisis: What we can learn from Southwest

Witnessing the meltdown of Southwest Airlines last week was sad and shocking. It’s difficult to overstate the amount of misery experienced by countless travelers this holiday season. And much of it was unnecessary. It is important to note that none of the other major U.S. airlines operating in the same weather conditions experienced anywhere near the number of flight cancelations that Southwest did.

It has been over half a century since Southwest Airlines was a new startup low-cost point-to-point airline flying between a triangle of cities in Texas: Dallas, San Antonio and Houston.

Now, Southwest is the largest U.S. airline, serving over 100 cities with 4,000 flights a day.

As the airline grew, what obviously did not grow with it was its ability to continue to operate such a large, wide-ranging complex system when stressed by winter weather this week. What started as a weather event quickly became a communications and operational failure event. In stressing Southwest Airlines, it revealed the gaps and lack of capacity and redundancy in their communications and operational systems, particularly their inability to be resilient, to rapidly recover from disruptions.

For large major airlines to be prepared for major disruptions, they must have already invested heavily in improved technology and communications systems that have high reliability and redundancy, as well as the training for their employees to use these tools effectively.

From its inception, Southwest Airlines chose to be an outlier in many ways, but in one way that in particular led to this week’s problems: they do not interline passengers with other major airlines, which means that Southwest cannot book their passengers on other airlines when one of their flights is canceled.

Another one of the problems at Southwest Airlines this week was the inability of passengers to reach reservations, even after hold times of over 10 hours, and the inability of Southwest employees to have backup communications for an overloaded phone system. Southwest Airlines crew schedulers could not get new flight assignments to pilots and flight attendants, and the pilots and flight attendants often spent many hours on hold trying unsuccessfully to reach the schedulers.

The result was that schedulers did not know where crews were, and crews did not know which aircraft or flights they could be assigned to operate or which hotel they should use. Ultimately it meant chaos and a complete meltdown, with 16,000 flights canceled and many passengers and crews stranded.

As an airline pilot for 30 years, I can only imagine how challenging and frustrating this has been for all the flight crews. With a system failure this broad, safety is compromised.

If anything good can ever come from this meltdown, it will be that all airlines, especially Southwest, review all their systems and processes, establish resilient communications systems with sufficient backup capabilities for their passengers and employees to use.

What happened this week should not have had to happen, but it would be even more unforgivable if airlines do not learn from it and act on it and allow it to happen again.