Southwest Airlines has canceled about 15,750 flights — 10 times more than any other airline since extreme cold weather began disrupting air travel on Dec. 22. The whole world watched televised reports as an estimated 1 million stranded passengers with flight cancellations wound through airports across the U.S., their wedding plans, Christmas gatherings and reunions disrupted.
If all news is good news, money can’t buy the kind of advertising Southwest Airlines got from the disaster. However, the scale of the airline’s crisis is raising questions about whether the company can survive its epic failure, or whether it should.
“This level of failure is completely unacceptable and sullies the brand and the entire industry, not just the company,” said Irina Tsukerman, a reputational management and crisis communications expert, in an email to The Moguldom Nation.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg warned Southwest CEO Bob Jordan that the government will take action if the airline does not make good on promises to reimburse passengers for alternative transportation costs, meals, hotels, refunds and baggage reunification. Buttigieg called the situation a complete “meltdown.”
Former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao described the Southwest Airlines breakdown as “a failure of unbelievable proportions,” telling CNN it was “a perfect storm of all the things that have been going on with the company. It’s going to take them a very long time” to rebuild trust with consumers.
“The issue is less with the airline itself and more with its leadership,” Tsukerman said. A “responsive and intelligent attitude at a critical point, could, however make it a better, even an exemplar, airline.”
A business and geopolitical analyst, Tsukerman is president of Scarab Rising, Inc., a media and security strategic advisory.
The Southwestern Airlines crisis involved both logistics and communications, she said. The company relied on an outdated scheduling system which contributed to the instant crisis, a culmination of multiple issues that have been building for years, yet the leadership failed to intervene and take early action.
Despite the meltdown, Southwest is one of the best airlines when it comes to customer service and cost, according to Michelle Osborn, a travel agency owner consultant at Outta Here Travels in Pampa, Texas.
“They have no change fees, no baggage fees for the first two checked bags, and their airline credits do not expire,” Osborn told The Moguldom Nation.
The airline’s outdated tracking system should have been updated years ago but past management didn’t want to spend the money, Osborn added. “The company is now under new management which inherited a mess but seems genuine in wanting to implement new, updated software.”
Osborn said she spoke to Southwest employees during the past week.
“They are just as frustrated as their customers because they were unable to help them when they needed it the most. Every major airline had some sort the past couple of years, it was just Southwest’s turn.”
Dallas, Texas-based Southwest started as a discount airline operating three planes in the ’70s and grew into one of the nation’s largest airlines.
Here are three top reasons to still fly Southwest Airlines after the Christmas disaster.
Southwest tends to be cheaper than the Big Three airlines, American, Delta and United, according to a 2-year-old report by personal finance company Nerdwallet.
Nerdwallet looked at more than 100 airfares in the fall of 2020 for flights between more than a dozen major U.S. airports, across a range of booking periods (two weeks out, six months out and for travel during the holidays).
Its analysis found that Southwest’s Wanna Get Away fares were cheaper on average than main cabin airfares on American, Delta and United in every scenario except one: American Airlines Main Cabin seats were about 1.5 percent cheaper than Southwest fares during the holiday season.
Travel meta-search engine Fair Compare also ranked Southwest Airlines the cheapest in a July 26, 2021 report.
Quebec-based travel news site TheTravel.com compared prices of domestic and foreign airlines and ranked Southwest No. 5 among the 12 Most Affordable Airlines in 2022.
Low fares and frequent sales allow customers to save on one-way flights starting at less than $40. Flying midweek or on a Saturday between Southwest’s operating bases in places like Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Orlando and Phoenix can save travelers even more money, according to travel industry news platform TravelPulse.
Southwest Airlines is a “perennial favorite for commitment-phobes,” Sally French and Elina Geller wrote for NerdWallet. Known for its flexible ticket policy and two free checked bags for every passenger, Southwest doesn’t charge the fees that come with flying on other airlines. The airline was not charging customers change fees long before other airlines followed suit at the onset of the covid pandemic.
Southwest’s change fee policy beats out other major airlines, according to Nerdwallet. It applies to all fare classes on all flights. If ticket prices drop, Southwest lets you rebook for the lower price and you’ll receive the difference as a refund or as a travel credit, depending on the fare class. If your new ticket is more expensive, you’ll pay the difference.
Photo: Orin Okubadejo, 12, of Maryland, poses for a family photo as a Southwest Airlines plane flies low over Gravelly Point on approach to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Arlington, Va., Dec. 30, 2022. The airline returned to a relatively normal flight schedule Friday, as the focus shifts to making things right with what could be well more than 1 million passengers who missed family connections or flights home during the holidays, and many of whom are still missing luggage. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)