The more I read about Southwest Airlines’ (SWA) complete and utter meltdown, the higher my blood pressure boils. At first, we all thought it was brought about by the weather, which obviously happens in December and a major storm any time of year can throw off any airline’s operations for days. RELATED: Travel Chaos: Southwest Airlines News, Tips and What Passengers Can Do to Deal With the Madness

But as the days go by, it’s become clear that other airlines, who operate from the same airports but have much larger operations, only have a fraction of the cancellations. Then you realize, the bad weather only triggered what was an inevitable catastrophe for Southwest. Just take yesterday’s numbers, provided by Southwest canceled 2,510 flights while American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, all three of which are much larger airlines than SWA, canceled just 78 flights combined. That’s unacceptable and the numbers are more drastic from the days prior.

It turns out the real reason for Southwest’s operational meltdown was the management team’s failure to invest the billions of dollars the government gave them in the right places. This was revealed by Southwest unions who say they’ve been warning the company about outdated systems for years. According to Reuters: “The comments echoed those of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, which blamed leadership failures in adapting airline operations to address repeated systems failures despite years of calls for improvements by the union. The holiday meltdown has been blamed on weather that had been forecast five days prior, but this problem began many years ago, when the complexity of our network outgrew its ability to withstand meteorological and technological disruptions,” it said in a statement on Wednesday.”

The airline executives didn’t just fail their customers, they failed their employees, which is why they’re speaking out. You know when flight attendants and pilots have to spend hours on the phone trying to get a hold of their supervisors or operations departments and have to sleep on airport floors or pay for their own hotel rooms, that things are bad.

As I wrote yesterday, it’s just not SWA passengers or crew being affected by the management team’s huge mistake. It’s other airline passengers too.

For example, my family and I were supposed to fly from Toronto to Los Angeles via Dallas yesterday on American Airlines (AA). The first flight was severely delayed, which meant we would miss our connection (we had a 2.5-hour layover). In normal times, the airlines would still have some wriggle room if some of their flights got canceled or there were a lot of misconnects, so at the worst, my family and I would just have had to spend the night at an airport hotel and fly out the next day.

But because Southwest has been canceling around 2,500 flights a day and each of their 737 planes holds between 143-175 passengers, that’s over 450,000 displaced passengers per day who are all scrambling to find seats on other airlines. There’s absolutely nothing available for at least a week for a family of four to fly from Dallas to anywhere in Southern California, not just LAX. You can see the screenshots here, which includes BUR, SAN, SNA, LGB, PSP, ONT airports.

I’m fortunate for a couple of reasons. We ended up canceling our trip to Canada since my wife was sick (here’s the full story and the travel hack for getting our money back in full, which includes the reason why I was still tracking our return flight) and that my wife and I are self-employed and had saved up enough money for a rainy day.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case of most Americans. Most don’t have the luxury of working for themselves or having enough money in the bank or credit on their credit cards to cover a major unexpected incident like this.

A series of tweets by David Slotnick brought me to write this article because I think he’s absolutely right. “People’s lives are likely going to be ruined by the Southwest meltdown; I don’t think that’s hyperbole at this point. People spend everything they can spare to fly their families home for the holidays. Now they’re stuck stranded, choosing between missing work or paying prices they can’t afford for walk-up fares on other airlines. In a country where 40% of people would struggle to cover a $400 emergency, it seems safe to assume people are going to empty their savings or take on punishing debt to get home or cope with a week being stranded.

David went on to say: “Southwest says it will look into covering reasonable expenses, but details and it’s actual obligation are minimal. It’s also unclear how long reimbursements will take in approved cases. How long will people have to float credit card balances with high interest rates? I think a lot of industry insiders and commentators are forgetting that while this is a big deal for Southwest Airlines and the industry as a whole, for countless individuals, this could be a life-altering disaster.”

Here’s just a couple examples:

@sxmjuliana: People plan. Not everything goes according to plan, but please explain to me where a mother is going to get food for her baby in an airport because hotels are sold out. Babies can’t eat, pax may lose jobs due to absence, and not everyone can afford a $4k ticket home on American.

Take a minute to think about all the different scenarios facing all of these passengers who are stuck for days … People have been unable to see their loved ones, get home to their family, feed their pets. People are missing weddings (one bride missed her own), funerals and saying goodbye to loved ones in the hospital. Some people are stuck in airports trying to find food for their babies, trying to find a safe place to sleep, paying for lodging, meals, transportation to and from the airport, standing in long lines surrounded by others with communicable viruses, which leads to a whole other onslaught of problems. People are losing the payment of their nonrefundable hotels, cruises and safaris that they saved up for for years.

Of course, naysayers will say, “Well, if you can’t afford to be stuck then you shouldn’t travel,” but there are plenty of instances when I would disagree, like seeing loved ones. I’ve purchased tickets before for friends who didn’t have money to buy the ticket but it was important for them to attend a funeral or wedding or see their family. If they got stuck, what would they do?

I know you’re thinking, “Make sure you have travel insurance,” which I agree with (I work with Allianz on occasion) but when something of this scale happens, then Southwest really needs to do the right thing and just start shelling out reimbursements and/or gift cards for passengers stuck in the airports. In a situation like this, compassion for the people who are most impacted can only serve Southwest well and they need to start caring, really caring about and taking care of, their passengers.

I also do realize that this is a first world problem. Those in Ukraine and other parts of the world who are fighting for their lives would definitely disagree that this meltdown is ruining people’s lives. However, people’s lives are changing because of it and some cases are a matter of life or death.


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1 Comment On "Is Southwest Airlines Meltdown Actually Ruining People's Lives?"
  1. Scott|

    I’m waiting/wondering if there will be a big, class action lawsuit against SW eventually.

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