Southwest Airlines leaders went before a Senate panel on Thursday, apologizing for a nearly week-long disruption in service during the Christmas holiday.
Southwest has acknowledged that system failures were partially to blame after the airline struggled to resume normal operations following a massive winter storm. The disruption caused about 60% of flights to cancel during a week-long period.
“I want to sincerely and humbly apologize to those impacted by the disruption,” said Andrew Watterson, Southwest Airlines' chief operating officer. “It caused a tremendous amount of anguish, inconvenience, and missed opportunities for our customers and our employees during a time of year when people want to gather with their families and avoid stressful situations.”
Southwest said that its operations were not resilient to cold weather. Watterson said a quarter of the airline’s flight crews are based in Denver and Chicago. When those cities became impacted by extreme cold and snow before Christmas, the airline struggled to move crews to where they needed to be.
“As the storm moved east other southwest airports of all sizes in the central and eastern part of the country began experiencing similar operational disruptions and the cascade of challenges led to ways of cancelations within two hours of departure. This overwhelmed our crew scheduling processes and technology. We had upgraded this system earlier in the year, but we're taking a fresh look at it and other systems of how we should improve,” he said.