Majority of Southwest Airlines flights out of South Florida are canceled amid chaotic holiday travel

Southwest Airlines Counter — Courtesy: Shutterstock — Image by: RaksyBH

Officials at Southwest Airlines will face a multitude of tough questions and decisions as the major airline company has canceled thousands of commercial flights throughout the holiday season while its rival airlines have canceled far fewer.

Early Tuesday morning, approximately 80 percent of the airline’s flights out of Miami and 75 percent out of Fort Lauderdale were canceled.

This announcement comes after an announcement on Monday from leaders at Southwest that the company would only fly one-third of its flights.

The Dallas-based company halted over 70 percent of its flights on Monday. By comparison, United, American, JetBlue, and Delta, had cancelation rates down to 0 to 2 percent by Tuesday evening.

Representatives from the associations representing flight attendants, employees, and pilots blame a number of things, including an outdated scheduling system, the company’s distinctive “point-to-point” route system, and the precipitating event of a significant winter storm.

Southwest executives have stated in public comments that logistics and operations, not staffing, are the issue. Southwest spokesperson, Jay McVay, claimed that the cancellations increased as a result of the pilots and aircraft being in the wrong place.

“So we’ve been chasing our tails, trying to catch up and get back to normal safely, which is our No. 1 priority, as quickly as we could,” said McVay.

Southwest utilizes a “point-to-point” route system, which, in contrast to most major airlines, delivers a higher proportion of direct and non-stop flights by picking up various crews along the way. However, staff and aircraft are dispersed across the nation when a crisis like this winter storm arises, which throws the entire system off.

Other airlines employ a “hub-and-spoke” system, which routes planes through a number of regional hubs. It requires more connecting flights, which can anger travelers who have to wait during quiet periods. However, a significant advantage of the “hub-and-spoke” arrangement is that when there is a problem, crews and aircraft are still gathered in the local “hub” cities.

If weather conditions cause an airport to go offline and a flight is unable to reach its destination, the point-to-point system has a downward cancellation effect.

“When bad weather hits, and you have staffing issues like they did, it creates a situation that is near impossible to recover from, and it couldn’t have happened during a worse possible week,” Scott Meyerowitz, executive editor of The Points Guy, told NBC News. 

It was also reported by CNBC that Southwest had staffing and fuel issues in Denver.

The United States Department of Transportation announced its plans to conduct an overall review and determine whether the trouble was fixable.

In a statement Monday night posted online, Southwest Airlines leaders wrote, “our heartfelt apologies for this are just beginning.”

“We were fully staffed and prepared for the approaching holiday weekend when the severe weather swept across the continent, where Southwest is the largest carrier in 23 of the top 25 travel markets in the U.S. These operational conditions forced daily changes of an unprecedented volume and magnitude to our flight schedule and the tools our teams use to recover the airline remain at capacity,” they wrote, “On the other side of this, we’ll work to make things right for those we’ve let down, including our employees.”

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