The airline is spending billions on technology, but it's also addressing its holiday meltdown in a more traditional way.
Southwest Airlines (LUV) - Get Free Report for months has been on a public-apology tour after its holiday meltdown left tens of thousands of passengers stranded.
It was an unheard-of, impossible-to-sweep under-the-rug public breakdown that exposed flaws in the airline's technology, which apparently had been there for years.
And while the airline's leaders were slow to respond, they eventually apologized both to passengers and to the U.S. government. In fact, they have been apologizing nonstop while they show how they plan to address the problems that led to the historic meltdown.
"We understand the root causes that led to the holiday disruption, and we're validating our internal review with the third-party assessment. Now, we expect to mitigate the risk of an event of this magnitude ever happening again," Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said in a news release. "Work is well underway implementing action items to prepare for next winter -- with some items already completed."
The company has said that the unexpected severity of Winter Storm Elliot led to a series of close-in flight cancellations, which overwhelmed the airline's software designed to handle those issues.
"While the airline had existing technology and staffing in place to handle many types of irregular operations, the pace and breadth of disruptions during this extreme event strained the ability to create timely operational solutions," the company said.
Now, in addition to making a large investment in improved technology, the airline also plans to implement an old-school solution.
Southwest Plans to Hire More People
While Southwest clearly needed to update its technology -- and it plans to spend $1.3 billion doing that -- not every problem can be solved by a computer. The airline also plans some people-based solutions that might enable more of its planes to take off.
"Challenges with infrastructure, winter equipment, and winter weather preparedness have been, or will be, addressed through various actions, including purchasing additional deicing trucks; securing additional deicing pads and deicing fluid capacity at key network locations; and purchasing more engine covers and engine heaters for cold weather operations," the airline said in a news release.
It may seem obvious, but if you can deice more planes and keep them flying, you have less need to reschedule flights. Southwest also seems to understand that more people are needed to keep its operations on track.
"Southwest was the first U.S. airline to hire back to prepandemic total staffing by June 2022," the airline said. And "going forward the airline will further augment winter staffing levels -- for example, when Ground Operations Employees are limited to the amount of time they can work outside in extreme temperatures."
Southwest also wants to ensure its crew has better information the next time a storm hits.
"Additionally, the airline plans to implement a new weather application to provide crews with more real-time and dynamic weather indications to enhance deicing holdover times -- which determines the time required before aircraft must be deiced again prior to departure," Southwest said.
Southwest Does Have a Labor Problem
Southwest is currently in negotiations with the unions representing its pilots and its flight attendants. Southwest's pilots have been openly critical of the airline's leadership and its flight attendants staged a protest outside the company's annual "rally" in February.
TWU Local 556, which represents the flight attendants, issued a statement on its Facebook page before the event:
It’s time for accountability on the part of Southwest Airlines. TWU Local 556 believes strongly in making this airline successful and is working to ensure this company we love isn’t run into the ground by leadership more concerned about shareholders than about workers and customers. Management’s methodology of choosing profits at the expense of the operation and its workforce has to change, because the flying public is also tired of the empty apologies that flight attendants have endured for years. It’s time for Southwest Airlines to make it right for flight attendants and for customers by investing in and valuing its people.” #MakeItRightSWA.
That's pretty similar to the statements made by the airline's pilots, who have raised similar issues. The airline did respond to the flight attendants' protest with the following statement sent to TheStreet:
"Southwest Airlines has an award-winning culture that respects our employees and allows them to express their opinions in a cordial manner. We remain engaged in negotiations with TWU 556 and the National Mediation Board to work toward a contract that rewards our flight attendants and allows us to continue attracting great talent."
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