A few weeks after Southwest Airlines’ massive holiday meltdown, which saw over 16,700 flights canceled and impacted thousands of passengers over the Christmas holiday week, United Airlines Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Scott Kirby, slammed several US carriers for scheduling more flights than they could handle.

Airlines can’t operate all they schedule

While participating at United Airlines’ fourth quarter investors’ call earlier this week, Scott Kirby addressed Southwest’s holiday meltdown last December. He said that there are a number of airlines –not only Southwest– “who cannot fly their schedules.” He added,

“The customers are paying the price. They’re canceling a lot of flights. But they simply can’t fly the schedules today.”

On December 20, Southwest released a travel advisory forecasting the impact of Winter Storm Elliott. Then chaos ensued. Southwest Airlines had disruptions in over 16,000 flights between December 20 and 26, and the company had to intentionally reduce its service by one-third in an effort to re-stabilize its operations across the United States, with some delays cascading all the way through January 2.

Following the Christmas meltdown, the scrutiny of airlines’ operations has become stringent. Southwest is facing the US Senate to examine the crisis it faced last year.

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700 N207WN

Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

These problems will continue

Moreover, Scott Kirby expects these meltdowns to continue because airlines are not investing properly to prevent this from happening. He pointed out this week’s snowstorm in Denver, which impacted the operations at the airport in this city. Three airlines operate most departures from Denver International (DEN), which are United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and Frontier.

Scott Kirby said that United Airlines had a 100% completion factor, so there were no cancelations. Meanwhile, the other two carriers canceled 12% and 27% of their flights on the first day and 33% on the second day. He added,

“Airlines that are running like that, it means they can’t fly their schedule, and they’re going to have to adjust one way or another. That’s what happened last year. That’s what I think is going to happen next year, and all of the structural issues are multi-year, I mean, all of them are three years at best to address, and if you put all of them together, this is a long-term structural issue.”

Two United Airlines aircraft at Newark Airport

Photo: HorizonUI/Shutterstock.

While Southwest Airlines’ point-to-point business model may have created the perfect storm for the company, the bottom line is that airlines have not appropriately invested in preventing these chaotic scenarios. Scott Kirby believes that the big three –American, Delta, and United– plus JetBlue have invested reasonably, allowing them to operate at a different level than all the other carriers in the United States.

Nonetheless, the US public largely believes that the US government –particularly the Department of Transportation (DOT) led by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg– has not held airlines accountable. In a letter sent to Mr. Buttigieg, 34 attorney generals said that the DOT should require airlines to advertise and sell only flights that they have adequate personnel to fly and support. The DOT should perform regular audits of airlines to ensure compliance and impose fines when they do not comply. The current notice of proposed rulemaking “Airline Ticket Refunds and Consumer Protections” published on August 2022 does not include a provision to correct this practice, they said.

What should airlines do to avoid another meltdown like the one faced by Southwest Airlines last December? Let us know in the comments below.

  • United-Airlines-Boeing-777-300(ER)--1

    United Airlines

    IATA/ICAO Code:

    Airline Type:
    Full Service Carrier

    Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Denver International Airport, Guam International Airport, Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport

    Year Founded:

    Star Alliance

    Scott Kirby

    United States

  • Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700 San Francisco

    Southwest Airlines

    IATA/ICAO Code:

    Airline Type:
    Low-Cost Carrier

    Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Dallas Love Field, Denver International Airport, Harry Reid International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Houston Hobby Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Midway International Airport, Oakland International Airport, Orlando International Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

    Year Founded:

    Robert Jordan

    United States

Source: simpleflying.com

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