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Southwest Cancels Over 2% of Holiday Schedule

The airline scrubbed over 500 of its planned flights during the busy holiday travel period.

Southwest 737 MAX 8 aircraft (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

Southwest is making headlines after it canceled over 500 flights during the peak holiday travel period. According to data from Flightaware, the Dallas-based airline scrubbed 569 flights from December 20-25, representing 2.2% of its schedule.

The troubled operational performance far outpaces any of Southwest’s peers, which saw relatively smooth holiday performance. On Tuesday, United reported its best-ever completion factor at 99.7% between mainline and regional flights from December 15. American had no mainline cancellations between December 20-25.

Southwest blamed the cancellations on the weather at some airports, including dense fog at its fourth busiest operation: Chicago Midway Airport. In a statement to AirlineGeeks on Tuesday, the airline said its operation is ‘stable.’ The airline has canceled only two flights at the time of writing.

“Our operation is currently healthy and stable and we do not anticipate any significant disruptions today. We continue to have all-hands on deck as our Employees work to safely take care of our Customers during this busy holiday travel season,” a spokesperson from the airline said in a statement.

“Specific to Chicago, Midway is our fourth busiest airport operation, with more than 200 departures a day scheduled over the holiday weekend. As a result of dense fog that began in Chicago on Saturday and continued into Sunday, we canceled approximately 100 flights on Monday and 300 flights for Sunday systemwide (out of our total flights of approximately 4300),” the statement continued.

Foggy Conditions Across the U.S.

A whopping 63 flights were canceled at Midway alone on December 23, far more than any other U.S. airport. Another large operation for Southwest, foggy conditions were also reported at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport over the holiday weekend, hampering some flights.

Cancellations at U.S. airports on Dec. 23, 2023 (Data: Anuvu Pulse)

Over a quarter of Southwest’s flights from December 20-25 arrived late, per Flightaware’s data, outpacing the U.S. industry mean of 17%. Southwest’s average delay time was approximately 39 minutes.

While to a lesser degree, Southwest’s holiday performance comes almost a year after the carrier’s 2022 meltdown where roughly 17,000 flights were canceled, stranding more than two million passengers. As a result, the airline was recently fined $140 million by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

In a third quarter earnings call, Southwest’s Chief Operating Officer, Andrew Watterson, assured shareholders and passengers that the airline was ready for the holiday rush and the challenging weather conditions that sometimes come with it.

“We have added de-ice pads, de-ice trucks, increased glycol storage and mixing stations, increased snow removal, heater carts, and other equipment to operate safely and effectively in winter weather. We have been conducting de-icing summer school to make sure we have plenty of ramp agents trained and ready to go for de-icing. That’s just a few examples of tangible things we have done,” Watterson said. “We are now so much better prepared for these extreme weather events.”

During the same call, the airline shared it had not suffered any ‘demand weakness’ during the 2023 holiday period following last year’s meltdown. Holiday bookings remained strong, according to the company.

DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg put U.S. airlines on notice in a December 18 Tweet adding, “This is a message to the entire airline industry: they must take care of passengers, or we’ll use the full extent of our authority to hold them accountable.”

“[Y]ou guys ruined my Christmas two years in a row,” one Twitter/X user posted.

Ryan Ewing
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  • Ryan Ewing

    Ryan founded AirlineGeeks.com back in February 2013 and has amassed considerable experience in the aviation sector. His work has been featured in several publications and news outlets, including CNN, WJLA, CNET, and Business Insider. During his time in the industry, he's worked in roles pertaining to airport/airline operations while holding a B.S. in Air Transportation Management from Arizona State University along with an MBA. Ryan has experience in several facets of the industry from behind the yoke of a Cessna 172 to interviewing airline industry executives. Ryan works for AirlineGeeks' owner FLYING Media, spearheading coverage in the commercial aviation space.

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