Southwest Airlines said Thursday it was looking to get back on schedule Friday, after cancelling more than 15,000 flights and creating misery for holiday travelers across the country.
So far, Southwest has just 39 flights canceled on Friday, compared to the thousands that have been canceled daily since a massive winter storm swept across the country.
“Right now it looks like a pretty smooth operation as we head into this transition tomorrow to allow us to resume operations on Friday at our normal schedule, which is a big step up,” Southwest chief operating officer Andrew Watterson said in a message to employees Wednesday evening, the Dallas Morning News reported.
The massive cancellations by Southwest compared to very few—just zero to 2% by the other major air carriers—during and immediately following the storm.
Southwest uses a “point-to-point” route model that often lets passengers fly directly from smaller cities and regions without having to stop at a central hub like Chicago. Other large carriers like United and American rely on a “hub-and-spoke” model where planes typically fly from smaller cities to a hub airport and then passengers change planes.
With a hub system, there’s a ready pool of crew members and pilots who can report to work at a major airport. That makes it easier to regroup after a storm, industry analyst Mike Arnot told The New York Times.
He said it’s harder to have a reserve of standby crew members and pilots when airlines serve many smaller markets. There is not usually excess crew in smaller airports.
As a result, Southwest’s cancellations created a giant snowball effect that rippled across the country—and its network—leaving planes and crews scattered, hundreds of thousands of passengers in limbo and scores of unclaimed luggage at baggage claims throughout the U.S.
On Tuesday the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced it would investigate Southwest’s “unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays & reports of lack of prompt customer service,” and look into whether the airline was complying with its customer service plan.
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