At the 2023 J.P. Morgan Industrials Conference, Southwest chief executive Bob Jordan announced their three-stage plan to prevent another catastrophic grounding through strategic investments and better planning.
Plan Calls for More Snow Equipment, Better Technology, and Increased Collaboration
After Winter Storm Elliott wreaked havoc across the East Coast, no airline was more affected than Southwest. The airline was forced to cancel over 6,000 flights across their point-to-point network, forcing Jordan to go on an apology tour and offer affected flyers 25,000 Rapid Rewards points as part of their reparations.
Speaking at the conference, Jordan said while the winter storm created a severe problem for both incoming and outbound flights in affected areas, “outsized impacts” at Chicago Midway Airport (MDW) and Denver International Airport (DEN), where roughly 25% of their crews are based.
“The cascading close-in flight cancellations overwhelmed our processes and technology, which led to manual alternatives and efforts that were both tedious and took longer to solve,” said Jordan, as quoted by a Seeking Alpha transcript. “This was the point at which the weather-related event turned into a crew-related event for us and eventually resulted in a 3-day reset of our aircraft and crew networks.”
After the airline’s board of directors established an Operations Review Committee and hired global aviation firm Oliver Wyman, Jordan said their new action plan is divided into three buckets. The three improvement areas include buying additional winter equipment, improving cross-team collaboration and upgrading internal systems.
To improve winter-time operations, Jordan said they have greatly improved the number of assets available to them. This includes buying 10 de-icing trucks to be split between Chicago and Denver, getting additional de-icing pads for Denver, and increasing glycol reserves at both airports. The carrier will also update their weather apps to help pilots determine when they need to go through de-icing again during delays.
Second, the airline has gone through realignments to improve their team collaboration. The network planning team and network operational control team now work together under one executive leader, allowing them to work together during irregular operations. The next step in this bucket is to improve operational dashboards and software to improve aircraft and crew recovery operations.
The final bucket includes updating and upgrading other investment areas, including their crew optimization software. Additional improvements include enhancing the electronic crew notification system, the crew phone system, and customer support and services phone systems.
“This summarizes the key root cause, along with the most notable tactical actions we believe we need to take in each area,” said Jordan. “As I hope you can tell, we’re well underway on a remediation plan, and we have a target completion date of October to be fully prepared as we head into next winter.”
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Source: frugal travel guy