Image: Charles Rex Arbogast (AP)
Anyone who rode Southwest in December 2022 knows it was hell. Thousands of flights have been canceled due to extreme weather conditions across the country. Lawsuits were filed and people were waiting for refunds on their flights. It was a total mess. Southwest wants to prevent that from happening again. The Washington Post reports that the airline is investing billions to update its systems so it’s prepared if and when something like this happens again.
In an email sent to members of the airline’s loyalty program, CEO Bob Jordan outlined the steps the company is taking to ensure it’s prepared should something like the December cancellations happen again . The most important part of all of this is looking after customers, something Jordan has pointed out will always be a priority. Jordan said customers waiting for lost bags or a refund are almost done. Aside from the 25,000 rewards points recently awarded to customers, Jordan said, “By the end of last week we’ve returned virtually every bag we had on hand from the event, processed nearly all refunds and are in the process of processing dozens of Thousands of refund requests per day.”
The biggest part of the plan is updating the company’s systems. Southwest has committed $1 billion to invest, upgrade and maintain the company’s IT systems. The airline has also set up a review committee to understand what went wrong and an outside consultancy called Oliver Wyman has been brought in to offer further suggestions on what the company can do to improve it.
While all of this is a step in the right direction, it wouldn’t have taken a catastrophic spate of flight cancellations to give Southwest a fire under its butt to make a change. All of this could have been avoided if the airline had warned and taken action just before the disaster struck. Of course, none of this is specific to Southwest, but Southwest is notable for having canceled many flights in such a short amount of time. In the days leading up to the cancellations and the storms, concerns were reported about everything from staff shortages to system failures. A Dec. 21 memo obtained by The Post, for example, highlights how concerned Southwest’s vice president of ground operations was about the staffing shortage at Denver Airport. He was concerned enough that he called it an “operational emergency.” But nothing was done.
Unfortunately, we will have to wait until another storm or holiday flight fever hits to see whether the billions invested in the southwest will pay off.