Pontifications: Southwest meltdown (its second in 3 months) is a day of reckoning; what will it do to fix it?

Jan. 3, 2023, © Leeham News: I’ve been employed by, consulting, or writing about the airline industry for 43 years.

By Scott Hamilton

I’ve seen plenty of times when flights were disrupted. There was 9/11, in which the US skies were closed for four days. It was a first. The COVID pandemic essentially shut down global traffic for months, another first. I’ve seen 40% of the US capacity operating in bankruptcy following the 1991 Persian Gulf War. There was SARS. The hijacking epidemic in the 1970s. The Palestine Liberation Organization hijacked four airliners at once and blew them up in the desert, fortunately having let passengers and crew deplane first.

See airport chaos:


But never have I seen the chaotic meltdown of an airline like that seen during the Christmas period of Southwest Airlines. On Boxing Day, the Luv airline canceled two-thirds of its flights. Its hubs in places like Baltimore and Chicago Midway were a sea of humanity and baggage. Southwest’s meltdown was simply unbelievable.

Yet, somehow, I wasn’t terribly surprised.

I’ve been watching Southwest for nearly five decades. I gave up flying it probably close to 20 years ago, even though I love Midway Airport (I still have family in the Chicago suburbs). Southwest has been on a long, long, long road to implosion for years.

Here’s why.

Skinflint ways

Southwest is famous for its cost control: A single fleet type; unparalleled employee cross-utilization; and high airplane and employee productivity top the list. Even saving paper clips that come in the mail, though this one is highly overblown.

But being frugal isn’t the same as being skinflint, and Southwest has been a skinflint for decades. It under-invested in its reservations system. This delayed the ability to offer international flights and reportedly led to the collapse of the proposed cooperative agreement with WestJet. Internal computerized infrastructure lagged, something that current CEO Bob Jordan now has pointed out as one contributor to the current operational meltdown. Flight crew information technology is so antiquated, they must telephone to let operations know where they are.

Guys, this is the 21st Century, not the 1970s.

Jordan, by the way, is getting an unfair rap when people charge that he, as the CEO, is responsible for this IT issue. He’s been CEO for less than a year. The spending and technologies policies issues trace to Herb Kelleher, a co-founder of Southwest and the long-time CEO. He was followed by Gary Kelly, Kelleher’s CFO. Kelly actually recognized the technology shortfalls and spent money to upgrade it. But not enough. Southwest remained rooted in the 20th Century. The blame falls on them, not Jordan.

Worsening labor relations

Labor relations at Southwest are poor. This is a long-festering decline. Southwest is one of the most heavily unionized airlines in the USA. The esprit de corps during the Kelleher era was high. The place was fun to work and fun to fly.

No longer. Fights between labor and management break out into the public domain on a regular basis. When Kelly, the CEO at the time, wrote to employees during the COVID pandemic that labor costs were too high for the times and needed to come down, the unions sent him packing. If Kelleher, the gregarious co-founder of Southwest and zany but shrewd leader for decades, had asked, I bet there could have been accommodation.

Pilots have engaged in a public relations campaign for years, complaining about pay and work rules. Flight attendants joined, too. (In 2019, pre-pandemic, Southwest’s labor costs were 45% of total expenses, so I have a problem thinking workers are underpaid, but this is another story.) Southwest simply isn’t the “family” it used to be. It’s just another place to work, and it shows.


Southwest has had only two fatal accidents since it began service in 1971. One was a runway overrun in Chicago in which the Boeing 737 left the airport grounds and hit a car driving by on adjacent Central Avenue. A passenger in the car was killed. There were 22 injuries.

The other was during a flight departing Philadelphia. An engine had an uncontained failure. Shrapnel blew out a window and the passenger in the window seat was partially sucked out. She died. Skillful piloting landed the airplane safely.

Only two deaths in 51 ½ years is an enviable record that is unmatched in the US. But there were other close calls. A runway excursion in Burbank (CA) saw the plane end up short of a gas station. A few more yards and the gas pumps would have been hit. There were 43 injuries among the 142 people on board.

Two 737 NGs suffered in-flight “pop tops” at cruising altitudes. Sections of the top of the fuselage ripped open due to metal fatigue. The flights landed safely. Metal fatigue is something that should be identified during heavy maintenance checks. At least cracks longitudinally at the window line of 737 Classics were discovered before an incident, requiring major maintenance for many aircraft still in its fleet at the time.

Southwest and the Federal Aviation Administration have been at odds for years. The Wall Street Journal on Dec. 23 published an exclusive report about the tension between Southwest and the FAA.

“The FAA in 2019 removed three senior managers at its Southwest office following allegations of lax safety enforcement by the office, which has been the subject of investigations by government watchdogs and federal lawmakers,” The Journal reported. Problems continue, the paper reported.

“Southwest maintains a culture of compliance, recognizing the safety of our operation as the most important thing we do, and any implication that we would tolerate a relaxing of standards is unfounded,” the paper quoted a Southwest spokeswoman.

Perhaps, but the FAA has levied multiple fines in the millions of dollars for failure to follow rules, regulations, and procedures.

Not the first meltdown

Southwest’s day of reckoning has arrived. The current meltdown was not Southwest’s first. The airline had a similar meltdown in October 2022 (blaming hurricanes this time). Nor is it unique to Southwest, although the national scope and depth are unprecedented.

Spirit Airlines had a similar meltdown in August 2021. Somehow, you expect that from Spirit. You don’t expect that from Southwest. Southwest needs a top-to-bottom extreme makeover. Executives need to make investments in infrastructure. Labor relations need to be improved. And improvements to safety are also needed.

No wonder I don’t get invited to their media days anymore.

123 Comments on “Pontifications: Southwest meltdown (its second in 3 months) is a day of reckoning; what will it do to fix it?

  1. Just an observation but that scene at BWI resembles the Accident & Emergency waiting room at my local hospital last week. A 20 hour wait to get seen. Call an ambulance? 4 hours – if you’re lucky. I am in the UK. Same at the railway stations. Same last summer at most UK airports. Can you spot a trend?

    • The current, more general meltdown in the UK has causes that are more related to economic / political issues at a national level than to financial / administrative issues at a corporate level.

      Southwest can afford to spend a relatively modest amount on software improvement.
      The UK can’t afford to spend huge amounts on public services.

      • In UK the main problem are actually strikes and on the long run the Brexit which has cost the Gouvernement about 45 B£ in lower taxe income, which is not available ti finance the NHS.

        • UK average annual GDP over the 30 years before they joined the EU in 1973 was higher than the 30 years after they joined.

          Growth from mass migration doesnt improve the wellbeing of most of the people already living in UK.
          Have you even seen the youth unemployment rates for France, or the reasons macron was able to win his elections ?

          • And a poll published just this week indicates that 65% of Brits would like a new referendum on re-joining the EU…up from 55% a year ago.

            Gosh, one can only wonder why…

          • Guess what the polls said just before the referendum vote ?

          • Quoting outdated statistics five decades ago won’t help reality! Can you turn back the clock to pre-1973?? Lol.

            -> “Brexit has left the UK economy 5.5% smaller than it would have been and added to the squeeze on public services that’s behind strikes crippling the railways and National Health Service, a prominent research group concluded.

            “The Center for European Reform said that slower growth is also weighing on the Treasury’s revenue and that the tax increases announced in the autumn fiscal statement wouldn’t be necessary if the UK were still in the European Union’s common market.

            CNN: Brexit has cracked Britain’s economic foundations
            -> “In reality, Brexit has hobbled the UK economy, which remains the only member of the G7 — the group of advanced economies that also includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — with an economy smaller than it was before the pandemic.”

            “Years of uncertainty over the future trading relationship with the European Union, Britain’s largest trading partner, have damaged business investment, which in the third quarter was 8% below pre-pandemic levels despite a UK-EU trade deal being in place for nearly two years.

            “Brexit has erected trade barriers for UK businesses and foreign companies that used Britain as a European base. It’s weighing on imports and exports, sapping investment and contributing to labor shortages. All this has exacerbated Britain’s inflation problem, hurting workers and the business community.

            ‘ “The UK chose Brexit in a referendum, but the government then chose a particularly hard form of Brexit, which maximized the economic cost,” said Michael Saunders, a senior adviser at Oxford Economics and former Bank of England official. “Any hope for economic upside from Brexit is pretty much gone.”

          • This is also true for the rest of the world :=))

      • Policy response to COVID was indisputably the greatest political blunder in history or else it was deliberate wrecking strategy. The UK, the EU along with the US and others are in the end game of a decades long failed, Keynesian economic system which has debased the currency beyond redemption. These seemingly disparate events are symptoms. Everything is connected, everything; when the money goes, everything goes.

        • @Pedro

          Michael Bloomberg was a pillar of the anti-BREXIT axis and marshalled all of the resources of his organisation to first resist the wishes of the British people to leave the EU and then to join those attempting to subvert democracy by repudiating the result and seeking to overturn that legitimate vote.

          CNN? Well I won’t even dignify that organisation with a response.

          It was during the BREXIT campaign that many of the elements of the Deep State became visible; the entire media, the entire establishment, every big organisation in the world, all the money, from the banks, from the government, from the EU, from the corporations, the NHS, the newspapers, the social media networking sites, the MPs, the foreign Presidents and Prime Ministers, the military, the intelligence services, the police, the charities, the stars, celebrities and virtue signallers, the universities and the crooked academics – almost the entire financial, political, media, military/industrial complex,intelligence agency, cultural, academic, the BBC, all the elements of this hybrid state, the Deep State engaged in the process to stop BREXIT. And still we beat them.

          That we only got BRINO (Brexit in name only) is evidence of not only the hollowness of democracy but the futility of attempting to alter such deeply embedded interests who have contempt for democracy.

          The EU itself is doomed. No bank or institution outside the EU will buy their debt. The Euro is doomed. In less than ten years it will all be over. As with BREXIT, we will console ourselves with the tears of the vanquished.

          • Michael Saunders is a Fabian. He attended the LSE (established by the Fabian Society) and he was appointed by the Tory Party to the BoE mpc for his socialist ideology. He delivered.

          • If you bother to read the requirements for re-joining the EU, it includes adopting the Euro as the national currency.

            Is this what the British populace want?

      • WN could always have done so. The financial system in which they operate incentivised them not to.

    • ref: https://www.google.com/search?q=airline+southwest+outdated+software

      The ITish techisphere points to overaged IT infrastructure that lacks flexibility to reschedule.
      no fallback, no recovery.
      Add in overoptimized “risk flattened” processes of the past. They all crash in the most unpleasant ways thinkable.

      NHS meltdown ( isn’t this similar to what is longstanding status quo in the US ) is due to thinning out resources or making them unavailable for the average budget.
      ( as promised Brexit released so much money to improve … NOT.)

  2. Were they the airline that insisted that 737 pilots not require retraining if transferring to the Max, resulting in Boeing installing MCAS?

    • One of the main ones. Airlines, Aerospace Manufacturers, Hospitals, gas stations, etc.,… are almost mostly run by the Business School, Jack Welsh, slash and burn, hedge fund owning, campaign contributing, media controlling philosophy. Unions are rising in popularity for the first time since 1980. But even with that sign, there’s little on the horizon to indicate a sea change in American industrial and commercial practices. The boys did their homework… They really got together after General Motors lost that lawsuit – and Nixon was forced to resign – and they had to end their Vietnam War prematurely. It’s called the Business Round Table! Course it ain’t in the History Books; that would be Woke Politics.

      • SW were also acolytes of the old flightcrew alert system. I will admit, they have a good record, but why not modernize? [No need to reply about commonality – i understand this].

        • I recall when Boeing introduced the 737 classic , Southwest, the launch customer, didnt even want the new auto throttle feature ( and autobrakes and VNAV) as that would have been a point of difference to the 737-200 which they had around 60 in service.

          I would say Southwest has been a drag on innovation in the 737 range from the beginning of the updated models

          • Pandering to SW’s desires worked out well for BA in the end, didn’t it?


        • Short-term thinking BA pandered to customers that hurt them in the end

    • I had the same thought. SW is a co-conspirator in the Max Crisis that caused human lives.

  3. Is there any indication of the total compensation that Southwest is going to have to pay affected passengers?
    I can imagine that, when all incurred expenses — such as hotels, alternative flights, rental cars, food, etc. — are added up, it’s going to yield a dizzying final amount.
    And there’ll also probably be plenty of litigation for immaterial damages.

    • @Bryce: Yes, there has been plenty of reporting that Southwest must reimburse expenses.

  4. What about Southwests role in the MAX crashes? They in effect, forced Boeing to hide the MCAS system and rewire the trim cutout console, so avoid any new training costs.
    The Southwest / Boeing million dollars per plane deal to avoid any new pilot training.
    The possible Southwest ploy to have Boeing deceive the FAA on the 737-MAX

  5. Good report on SW history. But It doesn’t explain what Just happened on Christmas.

    • @Mario: There’s been plenty of reporting already, and a Bob Jordan video, explaining what happened. Little reporting about the history of how Southwest got there.

  6. When a very successful CEO made one system that worked well in its time it takes guts to change it and spend the money when most people say “Herb would not do it and you ruin the system”. Still years roll on and you must spend money on upgrades good years and bad years.

  7. This is the Google gen and people have short memories, a couple of $99 sales and all will be forgotten.

  8. Every decision has a cost.
    When systems are built with a focus on cost containment and efficiency alone – the result is a system which lacks any resiliency and no surprise the system craters when stuff happens.

    It was fun at Southwest back in the days when they had a huge operational cost advantage over the legacy carriers – that cost advantage is much tighter today – surprisingly it is not as fun either

    • “Every decision has a cost.
      When systems are built with a focus on cost containment and efficiency alone – the result is a system which lacks any resiliency and no surprise the system craters when stuff happens.”

      Applies also to “a certain aerospace OEM” that is very pally with SW.
      They seem to be joined at the hip in multiple ways…

  9. How do you think Southwest has kept cost so low that the “Southwest effect” exists?

    If you want all the things the Big Three provide, you’re going to have to pay like the Big Three charge. No long will Southwest be able to set the fare in a market.

    Southwest’s problem wasn’t a free-standing meltdown. It was the result of terrible weather that exceeded the airlines capacity to recover.

    This is, as they say, a feature, not a bug.

    • There really is no Southwest effect like there once was. Any impact on airfares is because they are bringing some competition to a new city that didn’t have much before. But once the entry levels out, their fares are now often higher than the competition.

    • Good background here. often its the hometown newspapers which have above average ‘original’ reporting


      “Baggage reports, weather reports and other reports were all being delivered to pilots and managers on paper for all 4,000 flights a day….The company started delivering reports electronically, something most offices and airlines adopted years ago, ‘
      This was touted as a recent update !

  10. We can only hope that business schools around the world will take note of what has been unfolding over the years at Southwest, Boeing and GE to teach a new generation of leaders to manage with longterm goals and always prepare for the worst. Unfortunately most CEOs dont’s stay long enough at the same place to understand the longterm consequences of their actions, or inactions. And on top of this many CEOs lack emotional intelligence because this has never been a prerequisite to run a company since employees are viewed as cost rather than humans. The business community needs to understand that a system based on short term rewards can compromise the future, and disaster can strike when and where you don’t expect it if you lack a deep understanding of how your company works and what makes it tick.

  11. Wouldn’t SWA actually save money over the long term if they became the most fully automated airline? They could substantially cut labor savings and again become the low-cost airline that they used to be but no longer are.

    These days, SWA usually has higher prices than Alaska or Delta. With the schedule no longer being favorable post-COVID in many legacy cities, there is little reason to fly with them. I used to be very loyal to SWA, earning my annual companion flying card but with higher prices and a less favorable schedule, I no longer see any reason to fly with them.

  12. I feel like the CEO, COO, and perhaps the Chief Information Officer all deserve to be fired for cause on this event. They get paid the big bucks to take the risks and these risks utterly failed to pay off. They made decision after decision to not invest in upgrading and improving these systems. It is negligence pure and simple. It is financial malfeasance.

    If the board of directors does not act on this, it is useless.

    • They could have told the board they needed to invest in newer systems ( which they slowly have done so, a newish reservation system was rolled out a few years back) but the board chose to be the most profitable US airline instead and put the money into stock buybacks.

      ‘In its annual report last year, Southwest said it was “increasingly dependent on technology,” including systems that handled crew scheduling. But integrating new systems and technology is difficult, requiring a balancing act between the existing ones and new ones, it said.”

      Balancing act to invest in technology or pay for stock buybacks …so hard to chose?

  13. Not a new story, just a huge public one per the impact of so many flights cancelled.

    The issue then is, you have people with reservations on flight when they start again and how do you clear a backlog when flights are packed?

    All Airlines should pay into a pool per how many passengers carry and said pool pays for charter standby. Charter then comes in to get the stuck passengers to their destinations. Its the true cost of business.

    Clauses that if a disproportionate number are due to one airline they pick up the whole costs for the clearing operation.

    Or you buys your tickets and youse takes your chances.

    Never flew Southwest, never had a chance but sure will not now. Had no idea they were in such desperate straights.

    I saw a number of those issues pop up with FedEx, maybe the most notable one when they suddenly realized how dated the 727s were and started to buy every junker 757 they could find. It was truly stunning for what people said about Fred being an airplane guy.

    • > All Airlines should pay into a pool per how many passengers
      > carry and said pool pays for charter standby.

      There is already a mechanism for this. Many airlines have rebooking arrangements with other airlines. So if say United cancels a flight those passengers can be booked on a later Delta flight. Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue and, United all have such partnerships in place. This provides a level resilience against failures specific to one airline.

      But Spirit, Frontier, Alligiant and, Southwest, have chosen not to make those arrangements. So when a SouthWest flight is canceled the only option is a later SouthWest flight. If SouthWest had had those partnerships in place things would have gone much better for them and their customers.

      • “There is already a mechanism for this. Many airlines have rebooking arrangements with other airlines. So if say United cancels a flight those passengers can be booked on a later Delta flight. Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue and, United all have such partnerships in place. This provides a level resilience against failures specific to one airline.”

        I have read this but my overnight stays at DFW and ATL airports last year tells me the airline rather you wait for the next flight than send you to a competitor.

        • “Many airlines have rebooking arrangements with other airlines.”

          Apparently not available in existing SW software.
          No export option 🙂

          • There’s the Right way, the Wrong way and the Southwest way. They built their brand, and their profits, on doing things differently. Sometimes “different” doesn’t scale well.

            I recall reading an article in Air Transport World about 20 years ago. It was about how Southwest was finally seeing a need for crew scheduling software. Until that time it had all been done manually. By one person!

          • ” Until that time it had all been done manually. By one person!”

            Have you read your Parkinson?

            Adding personnel to a “meshed” task ( near anything that goes beyond swinging a broom ) does not increase productivity… by much.

            Successfully partitioning a “one person” job to allow a team effort is less than easy.
            doing this in software repositions the breaking point : who knows his ( her ) way around the software solution ( This is a major problem : the human dispatcher was involved all the time, he was current. The developer went elsewhere after his solution was functional. i.e. having a “current” developer at hand requires premeditation 🙂

        • jkeeko:

          I have seen some significant delays that the arrangement did not work for.

          As William noted, the first effort looks to be keeping the passenger(s) on the airline flights, even if its a long delay (I know of one family member that they had to sic their travel agent on AK to get them corrected)

          And at issue is how crowded someone else flight is and if they are hit by the same event and how long it takes them to clear the backlog before they can book anyone (and how jammed the flights are to start with)

          What I am talking about is a formalized set in stone operation that is not on variables but can be triggered as soon as the even has cleared the area and the airports are working again.

          A few years back AK was hit with weather issues in SEATAC and it extended up to Anchorage as many of the flights are to or from there and from memory it took them a week to clear the backlog.

          And what Airline policy is vs what the agents do can be two totally different things (ergo, we use a travel agent and she jumps down their throat if things go wrong).

          During the recent AK airline meltdown my wife cancelled a trip as she could be stuck in one of several places for a couple of day even with the help (she would get lodging and food but stuck never the less)

  14. Denver got hit Monday with a snow and ice storm and have to see if another ripple affect though all airlines there were affected.

    Another storm forming out in the Pacific and going to hit and roll through so stay tuned.

  15. Let’s not forget this airline received approximately $7.5 billion from the US taxpayers for Covid relief.

    Jbeeko nailed it about SWA lack of any interline agreements. They also don’t do interline bag transfers. They don’t allow seat assignments to ‘save on this part of a reservation system’. If you have a family traveling you’ll pay extra to try and have seats next to each other

    Their crew schedule system is antiquated.

    SWA tries to maintain their original Herb Kelleher business model, and they like to brag they are one of the largest US operators but they sure don’t act like it.
    Everything changed with them when they decided to go international and fly to Hawaii.
    Airlines are supposed to be on top of managing critical risks. SWA has been down this weather debacle before and they didn’t fix this risk then and I’ll bet ya they won’t again.

    A buddy shared a management memo SWA published to all DIA employees before the Christmas holiday there would be mandatory OT. So some employees then called in sick. A second memo was published threatening all ramp employees if they call in sick they must have a doctors note or be terminated.
    Many ramp employees quit.
    How’s that for LUV…..

  16. I wouldn’t blame SWA for the MCAS disaster, but it is interesting that they hired the pilot who boasted about pulling the wool over the eyes of the FAA

    • @Robert

      I wouldn’t blame SWA for MCAS but they for sure pressured Boeing to stay the course on a DA type certification.
      The people to blame are the Boeing executives and the FAA who rubber stamped the certification.
      BTW, Mark Fortner no longer works for SWA. Moved on to greener pastures.

      • While I have seen no evidence, its hard to square the Southwest circle with Fortner who then moves to them (he then took a buy out)

        I seem to recall his prior to Boeing background was not test pilot either.

      • I believe more would come out if the lawsuit proceeds. It’s hard to believe how far they would go to avoid additional cost.

        -> In April 2016, when Boeing’s 737 Max was in flight test a year ahead of its certification by the Federal Aviation Administration, Southwest Airlines made a strange proposal to Boeing – one that suggests an effort to deceive the FAA.

        According to a legal filing by attorneys pursuing a lawsuit against the airline, Southwest manager Bill Lusk asked Boeing officials, including the Max chief technical pilot Mark Forkner, if engineers could install a new flight control safety alert required for the Max on a single one of Southwest’s older 737s – and then deactivate it once the Max was certified.

        The filing in a Texas lawsuit in late March alleges that the sole purpose of this proposal was to be able to tell the FAA that the alert was not new on the Max, so that it wouldn’t trigger costly additional pilot training that Southwest was determined to avoid.

        “It’s hard to come up with any reason for that other than to deceive the FAA,” said Mary Schiavo, former U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General and advocate for airline safety. “It’s really appalling.”


  17. I do wonder if SWA has the right strategy for the future with respect to being the major, and almost only, customer for the MAX-7.

    Everywhere else airlines seem to be up gauging capacity, as seen by the rush for A321. Even if smaller aircraft were right in the past, wouldn’t natural growth of traffic mean that somewhat bigger capacity would now be appropriate?

    • In fact Southwest has shifted up the scale, the reality is they view the -7 as having a significant place in their system.

      They put the 800 into services and the -8 (no -9 let alone -10 orders) but they have 400 700s in service and while the orders now are close to 50/50, that is a lot of 700s that suit the routes in theory.

      As they tend more point to point (mini hubs?) it may well be that the -7 does suit on a lot of routes.

      • Frugal again. The Max 7 has 149 seats , one below the point where an extra cabin crew member is required . It also works on Midway’s short runways, its Chicago hub.
        the other reason would be its policy? to only open a new city when it can fly at least 10 departures per day.

        • Duke is correct here. It makes no sense to just break the 150 pax barrier for a 4th stew, if the market gives you just a few extra seats.

          You may call if frugal, but it just makes more sense. Better to fly a 150 seater full all the time and max profits out on that route, and upgauge only when you’re sure that the market will fill the aircraft for you.

          Which raises a good point;

          If you were operating an airline and you wanted to follow the LCC model, with one seating class & keeping fleet commonality (whichever OEM you chose, doesn’t matter) but using a smaller and larger aircraft model – would it not be optimal to operate

          1) One type that get’s you to 150 seats
          2) The other, get’s you as close as possible to 200 seats

          LUV will get the Max 7 which fills the first, but they only put 175 seats in their Max 8’s.


          Wouldn’t it be better to fly the Max 9, which I think could get them to just under 200 seats? SCAT Airlines get’s 213 pax in theirs, according to wiki.

          Just musing…

          • Ryanair could follow a similar model.
            Its rivals Easyjet and Wizz get 230-235 passengers into an A321neo; Ryanair is stuck at 196 in its MAX-8s and 189 in its 737-800s. It could take MAX-10s, but they underperform on range compared to the LR/XLR of the competition.

          • The continuous delay of the MAX 7 made WN to order more MAX 8 for 2022 and 2023. At the end of the day, how much is it going to hurt WN’s cost performance.

    • Maybe they should buy A220-300 for shuttling pilots around their mini hubs during bad weather events.

      Mark the aircraft with a destination and first come first serve for crews (we don’t need to balance pilots and cabin crew)

  18. This is a bigger passenger impact than Braniff going bankrupt. The largest domestic carrier at the holidays is like water or electricity in that it is a necessary utility and some safeguards should be in place that it is robust.
    The obvious solution is WN should stock up on credit card imprinter machines and lots of rotary dial telephones to be ready for next year.

    • Ted:

      I remember them but you have to explain to many what a rotary phone is!

      I can remember 40 years ago my mom had her folks rotary phone replaced with a push button, what a revelation for them!

  19. ‘The largest domestic carrier at the holidays is like water or electricity in that it is a necessary utility’

    You mean like the Texas power grid?

    Hey – anyone know where LUV is headquartered?

      • @Bryce

        Yes – the deferred prosecution agreement, by the attorney who left government service shorty thereafter, to go work for the law firm which represents Boeing.

        How warm and cozy. Unlike the homes in that state…

  20. There is several factual error in this article. No NG has ever has a crown rupture. It is a different aircraft structurally from the classic (-300). Herb Kelleher never shortchange on technology deployment for Southwest. LUV pioneer ticketing vending machine and online ticketing worldwide. Not investing in international sales was deliberate as Herb remind employees that there is no money to be made flying overseas than multiple trips 400 miles. When his ways was change after he step down to ROIC that was when investments on technology change. All LUV pilots must fly the plane manually as well as able to fly with automation.

    • Yes. Both were 737-300s not NGs
      SW 812
      ‘The depressurization was caused by the structural failure of the fuselage skin, which produced a hole approximately 60 inches (150 cm) long on the upper fuselage.[2][3][4][5] The NTSB investigation revealed evidence of pre-existing metal fatigue, and determined the probable cause of the incident to be related to an error in the manufacturing process for joining fuselage crown skin panels’

      SW 2294
      ‘Highly magnified inspections found that a long metal fatigue crack had developed at the boundary of two different manufacturing processes used by Boeing in creating the fuselage crown skin assembly’ Wikipedia

      Southwest off loaded all its classics after that, and unusually for them, bought used NGs. There was some suggestion that Boeing had to carry the can for some of the costs

  21. The MAX 7 will have 150 seats and generous seat pitch better than every airline in USA. The A220-300 is a 125 -130 seat aircraft in southwest configuration.

    • Geez, that funny Daveo. SeatGuru has the following for the 737-700 (you know, the clunker that will be replaced by the new clunker), which LUV now flies, with a 31″ pitch:


      They also have airBaltic flying an all 1 class config, like LUV, with a 32″ pitch:


      airBaltic manages to get 145 seats in there, with more legroom.

      Oh yah,

      LUV has a seat width of 17 inches
      the A220 gives you 18.5 inches (I think that it’s the middle seat, while the other seats are 18 inches, but I digress)

      airBaltic has 31 rows, so I’m thinking if they dropped down to fly like LUV, then they could squeeze in another row to get to the magical 150, which is what you top out at, before needing another stew.

      So no.

      The A220-300 is NOT 125-130 seat aircraft in the LUV config. (airBaltic also blocks the middle seat in the first couple of rows for European Business class.)

      30 rows. 32 inches. Wider seats. 150 pax.

        • There ya go, then.

          We’ll see if LUV can beat 150 seats at 32″ pitch.

          But one thing that the Max 7 will beat the pants off of the A220-300, in all fairness to Daveo, is the OEW. The Max 7 will be much heavier.

          It will also carry more fuel; 25,800 litres, versus 21,508 litres. (6,820 gal vs 5,682 gal) – but it flies a whopping 250 more nautical miles (463 km).

          • The MAX-7 still isn’t certified.
            The A220 is.

            But, take hope: Certification is Just Around the Corner™

  22. In a free market the board of directors made up of major stock owners appoint the CEO to improve the net value of the company and have it follow rules and regulations. If they fail another company better run should outcompete it and get the investors money. That way most companies has its peak and then a long slide to failure or reconstruction often under Chaper-11.

    • That is oft spouted DOGMA embellished with fake Nobel Prize theories. 🙂

      Under the hood things work differently.

  23. OK, so the first passenger lawsuits against LUV are already beginning:


    And then there’s this:
    “Southwest Faces an Estimated $500 Million Hit From Holiday Flights Fiasco”


    Add in the costs of litigation, fines, etc., and the total cost will probably be several $B.

    So, how much did the company save by deferring modernization of its software?

    There’s a certain financial parallel to BA’s costly MAX fiasco here…

    • BTW, When we purchase an airfare from any airline around the world we are entering into a contractual agreement. It’s a simple contract.

      Read the terms and conditions sometime and see what it says.

      I know in Europe (EU) they have have very stringent rules for the airlines to meet to ensure passengers are protected even in weather related problems.
      In the US weather is not a cause for the airline operators to frankly do anything other than try to meet their contractual end of the agreement for passenger protection. If a delay or cancellation is caused by maintenance or ramp then the airline has a whole different piece of the pie for the contract.

      It’s easy for the airlines to blame weather on many problems.

      • It will be very difficult for SW to try to scapegoat the weather in court proceedings, seeing as the same weather had a much less chaotic effect on other airlines.

        Incidentally, weather-associated delays in the EU are a grey area: large, dislocating events tend to trigger an exemption from mandatory compensation…whereas small, isolated events don’t.


        • Isnt there a ‘cottage industry’ in the EU where lawyers will take on the passengers claims for a cut of the final compensation ? They would settle out of court but know all the angles and automate the filing of the boiler plate paperwork.
          Their advantage is the airlines know they cant be stonewalled and they have mass claims underway at anytime and will litigate the problem airlines to boost any legal costs. Ryanair is a famous reluctant refunder.

          The points and or various credits is merely the ‘first and lowest offer’ by Southwest

          • The US is the home of contingency litigation — SW will be screwed by class action claims once some prominent law firms get involved.

            I know several EU residents who have received full delay-related compensation without litigation — though the airlines do tend to hold out when they suspect that they have a good case.

        • @Bryce

          Thanks for that link, Bryce.
          These frivolous lawsuits won’t go anywhere. As I pointed out about the contract when purchasing the airfare.
          Once purchased, you’ve just agreed to the terms and conditions.

      • Airdoc:

        Which is exactly what Southwest was trying but it ran into the ugly reality that once the event cleared, 90% of the flight delays were on Southwest. Kind of hard to pull that off with a straight face.

        Kind of like standing naked in the middle of the street.

  24. A big question is, where do they go from here?

    A lot of the future depends on how SouthWest’s IT has come about. I suspect that it’s a hodge podge of kludges built up over decades, and they could be in deep trouble. The problem with such an aglomoration is that no one really knows anything about it, or even knows what it’s supposed to do.

    That fits with the chaos; if they knew their systems and business processes well enough to know that chaos was possible, they’d mitigate against that before it can happen. Generally speaking this kind of total collapse in business operations indicates that their current business processes are not fit for purpose. So it’s not just a case of buying a shiny new computer and reimplementing the same old tripe; it takes a significant re-think of how you run the company. And you have to do that before you can begin to rebuild the systems.

    A lot of their future depends on senior management attitude. The challenge is that fixing broken business procseses can reach into some unexpected places, especially labour relations. If they’re going to ask people to change how they do their job as part of re-teching the company, that requires the cooperation of the staff, which is something the senior management have to have earned.

    “Demanding” cooperation ain’t always a good idea!

    Pleading for it isn’t exactly guaranteed, though if it’s obvious it’s going to make staff’s lives easier then it may just work…

    As to how they do this, and how long it’ll take, well there’s no good news. I strongly suspect that right now, if new sytems are being contemplated at all someone is whispering “Agile development” into senior management ears. Fine, but that also depends very strongly on senior management attitude, and comes at the risk of making backward steps and lots of changes (which translates as “this could get a lot worse before it starts getting better”, or, “the share price is going to be toast for some undefined period of time”).

    Agile also invites early curtailment; changes are made and some benefits felt, then the money gets tight and so the project gets stalled, and the new system is well on the way to being a new collection of kludges replacing the old.

    The classic Waterfall approach is probably more certain if done properly, but involves a lot of money burn before any impact whatsoever on the operations is felt. But one way through that is to shamelessly copy some other successful company’s business process, and reproduce their business systems for one’s own use. One might get sued, but then again one might not.

    Arguably, the only way to guarantee continued value in the company is to sell up, immediately. A competitor with good business systems can easily absorb it; they’d not be starting from scratch, and “all” they’d need to do is take on the staff and aircraft, throw literally everything else in the trash.

    Compared that to the risk of re-teching / re-designing how the company operates, which could easily kill the company outright unless an awful lot of things go well and are got right. Getting a good merger price is likely less risk.

    • Yea that is accurate. I saw the same thing at FedEx.

      As new stuff came along they built modern programs for it but the legacy stuff was horribly complex to get not just the data over but the features people both knew how to access and work with.

      As I recall they still had some DOS system they had not been able to replace when I quit.

      They were still using a green screen system for email until 2000 or so (you could kill a sent email if you decided it was a bad move, I liked it but it had no save feature, you always knew someone had lost a message when you hear the scream, no, no, not followed by cuss words.

      If you were smart you could cut and paste it into Word or the like but no save feature. Best if it was a report was to build it in a Word processor and then paste it in.

      It took me years to finally figure out the funny spelling, it was UK derived of all things. Fun times.

  25. (Borrowed from an esteemed colleague)

    How is Covid better than SouthWest?

    Covid is airborne.

    • Frank:

      Now you have done it, you are in big trouble with the forbotten C world.

      Good laugh.

  26. In reference to the NTSB comments on the EAIB final report on ET302, which was discussed at length here over the weekend, the French BEA accident investigation agency has now concurred with the NTSB, and released their own comments.

    Readers may recall that the BEA analyzed the ET302 flight data recorders on behalf of EAIB, and participated in the investigation, so they have direct access to the data.

    The BEA comments step through the flight in detail, which closely matches the sequence that was posted here two years ago. They also note their comments, like the NTSB’s, were omitted from the EAIB final report.

    Here are their conclusions:

    “The BEA notes that the contributing factors identified by the EAIB are only related to the MCAS system. The following contributing factors, that come out of the analysis of the event, should also be stated in the report:

    1. Flight crew’s failure to apply, immediately after take-off and before the first MCAS activation, the Approach to Stall or Stall Recovery Maneuver and the Airspeed Unreliable Non-Normal Check-list;

    2. Captain’s insistence on engaging the A/P, contrary to the Approach to Stall or Stall Recovery maneuver procedure;

    3. Insufficient use of the electric trim to relieve the high control column forces after the MCAS nose down orders;

    4. Captain’s lack of thrust reduction when the speed became excessive, which in combination with insufficient trim, caused an increase of the forces which became unmanageable on both the control column and the manual trim wheel.

    5. The use of the Logipad system by the airline as the sole means to disseminate information on new systems and/or procedures, which doesn’t allow the evaluation the crews’ understanding and knowledge acquisition on new systems and procedures. This system was used to disseminate the information related to the MCAS system issued following the previous 737 Max accident and did not allow the airline to ensure that the crews had read and correctly understood this information.”


      • Which is now contested independently by two of the best aviation investigation & safety institutions in the world. As well as by any rational person who examined the flight data.

        The airline is protecting itself, and has the cooperation of their national investigation board. And that’s being done to the detriment of the safety of their flying public. Which is a loss and a shame.

        The OEM complied with a request from their common insurer, to consolidate the liability cases with those of the airline. A prerequisite of that action was to make no claims against the airline and pilots, thus resolving any conflict of interest the insurer would have in representing both parties.

        Important to understand this is a routine practice in liability cases involving a common insurer. However it has nothing to do with factors of causation, as the two sets of comments make clear.

        • There’s no “contesting” — just territorial scent marking by bureaucrats.

          The OEM designed and built this product, and is uniquely aware of all its appalling litany of shortcomings — and also of the inadequacies of its own assumptions on crew alerting and reaction. With that as a background, it formally conceded that the pilots could not be scapegoated for the consequences of its own (criminal) corner cutting.

          If the NTSB and BEA disagree, they should talk with the OEM.

          Now, as @williams pointed out below, you’re Crusading on the wrong post. Perhaps you should move back to the previous NTSB post, rather than cluttering the dicussion here?

          • Just amusing to see whether you are capable of making any truthful representations on this issue. Thus far, in four years of discussions, you have not.

            You certainly know the truth, because it’s been right in front of you for years, and has been confirmed by every authoritative source, at every turn. Yet still you deny, obfuscate, falsify & evade.

            Still it’s been a worthwhile exercise to learn and understand the mechanisms that produce such actions & behavior. You are nothing if not consistent & predictable.

          • Alternatively, to hold up a mirror:

            “Just amusing to see whether you are capable of making any truthful representations on this issue. Thus far, in two years of discussions — prior to your double suspension from LNA — you have not.

            You certainly know the truth, because it’s been right in front of you for years, and has been confirmed by every authoritative source, at every turn. Yet still you deny, obfuscate, falsify & evade.

            Still it’s been a worthwhile exercise to learn and understand the mechanisms that produce such actions & behavior. You are nothing if not consistent & predictable.”

          • -> Javier de Luis, an MIT aerospace professor whose sister Graziella de Luis died on Flight ET302, expressed anguish that the disputing accounts could sow doubt about the primary cause of the two MAX accidents that together killed 346 people

            “The fact that this airplane was allowed to fly with a system, that if one sensor failed, would kill everybody on board — not once but twice — is a monumental failure not on Ethiopian but on Boeing and the FAA,” de Luis said.


          • @ Pedro
            There’s an even more interesting quote from De Luis in the same Seattle Times article:

            “The procedures for flying this airplane are so complicated that it is impossible to not screw up something,” de Luis said. “You can guarantee that if that results in an accident, that’s what everybody’s going to blame you for.”

        • “Which is now contested …”

          I’d see the interventions more as “also”.

          Primary cause is design errors done by Boeing.
          Everything else “assisted”.

          I see the path you are directed to “aid public perception”.

        • > The airline is protecting itself, and has the cooperation of their national investigation board. And that’s being done to the detriment of the safety of their flying public. Which is a loss and a shame. <

          Not that is some *prodigious* spin, right there. Likelier
          that the OEM are getting help from the NTSB- and you.

          • Neither NTSB or BEA disagree with the probably cause (MCAS)

            They do disagree with contributing causes (factors).

            I had to take a step back when Bjorn wrote the main cause was MCAS.

            As a pilot, I felt that Lion Air pilot should not have had to deal with MCAS but he had several clues that could have saved the aircraft (and yes that gets into pilots saving aircraft they should not have to)

            Ethiopian Air is complex in this is not the first time that an Ethiopian a Air crash was not addressed (737 out of Beirut in 2010).

            Boeing has 100% fault, training and better piloting could have kept it from happening but you also have to address how the Simulator got out of compliance and was not caught nor that the training did not reflect even mentioning the hard/impossible to hand wheel crank without unloading.

  27. SWA Pilots Union Blames Previous CEO


    “Arguably, our shareholders have suffered for a long time when it comes to getting a return and our employees have been very well taken care of.” — Gary Kelly

    Gary Kelly’s only enduring legacy is that he destroyed Herb Kelleher’s.
    Rest in peace, Herb.

  28. ‘Boeing wanted to wait three years to fix safety alert on 737 Max’:

    “Boeing Co. planned to wait three years to fix a non-working safety alert on its 737 Max aircraft and sped up the process only after the first of two deadly crashes involving the planes. The company acknowledged that it originally planned to fix a cockpit warning light in 2020 after two key U.S. lawmakers disclosed the company’s timetable Friday..”


    • One wonders if the company first consulted with its buddies at SW when deciding on this “timetable”…

    • And, on a related subject:

      “U.S. FAA names experts to review Boeing safety culture after fatal crashes”

      “WASHINGTON, Jan 5 (Reuters) – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Thursday it had named 24 experts to review Boeing’s safety management processes and how they influence Boeing’s safety culture after two fatal 737 MAX crashes killed 346 people.”

      “The panel, which was required by Congress under a 2020 law to reform how the FAA certifies new airplanes, includes MIT lecturer and aerospace engineer Javier de Luis whose sister was killed in a MAX crash, as well as experts from NASA, the FAA, labor unions, Airbus AIR.PA, Southwest Airlines LUV.N, American Airlines AAL.O, United Airlines UAL.O, GE Aviation GE.N, FedEx Express FDX.N and Pratt & Whitney.”

      “De Luis, a lecturer in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics Engineering, told Congress in 2020 that “Boeing cannot be allowed to continue to certify its own designs, especially those systems that directly impact vehicle safety, with little to no outside review.””


      • more from that link:

        “..In September, the FAA finalized a policy to protect aviation employees who perform government certification duties from interference by Boeing and others.
        In May, the FAA opted to renew Boeing’s Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) program for three years rather than the five years Boeing sought.

        The FAA continues to subject Boeing to enhanced oversight, inspecting all new Boeing 737 MAXs and 787s before they can be delivered.
        >> In November, the Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General said it would audit the FAA’s oversight of the MAX. << "

        • To be kept in mind, the alert on the panel would do no good unless you linked it to MCAS action and as no one knew about MCAS, that is useless.

          The reality is that you would need Simulator training to go with MCAS 1.0 function (mis-function ) as well as hard to impossible hand crank.

          Its not uncommon to have software updates of even critical nature delayed. The A320 had at least one that hit the fan about 5 years ago that was allowed to go for 5 years.

          I do not agree with that policy but its sadly not unusual for all AHJ.

          • You reference the A321NEO “limited control on rotation metrics at CoG limits”.

            This was fixed immediately after being found by way of reducing allowed CoG limits.
            Later replaced by a Software Adjustment.

            The nonfunctional AoA mismatch indication ( an orderable option ) seems to have been known to Boeing _but_ was not made public ( neither FAA nor customers that ordered the option).

            See the difference in handling a fault?

          • @Uwe,

            Obfuscation is the norm, from politicians to laymen.

        • @Bill7

          See my post above. Nevertheless I have no doubt FAA has picked the composition of members after careful consideration, to make sure some remain minority.

          • From your link:

            “..It quotes a Boeing “Program Directive” that instructs the jet maker’s training development organization to collaborate with Southwest on the required pilot training.
            Boeing’s chief technical pilot on the Max, Mark Forkner – who was acquitted by a U.S. District Court jury in March of deceiving both the FAA and Southwest about the Max flight controls – worked closely with Southwest to achieve that goal.

            In the end, Southwest got its way: its 737 NG pilots were able to upgrade to fly Maxs after completing a three-hour course on an iPad.
            The legal filing alleges that Southwest’s involvement included pressuring Boeing to remove from pilot materials any mention of the new flight control software called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System that was later identified as the primary cause of the two crashes.

            In November 2015, Southwest conducted an intensive review of the Max’s systems, pilot procedures and flight manuals and came across mention of MCAS in a pilot checklist for an emergency procedure, the legal filing shows.

            Southwest contacted Boeing to remove MCAS from the checklist; it was.

            When Forkner left Boeing in early 2018, Southwest hired him at the recommendation of executives who had dealt with him on the Max. He worked at Southwest’s Dallas headquarters on the Technical Pilot Team, “where he focused on a wide variety of projects,” said spokesperson King..”

            Sweet deal!

  29. ‘Southwest Airlines pilots to disastrous bosses: It’s your education, stupid’:

    “..Penned by the pilot’s union’s second vice president, Captain Tom Nekouei, the letter specifically derided management and, in particular, former CEO and current chairman Gary Kelly.

    >> The pilots sneered that Kelly had authorized stock buybacks instead of investing in vital aspects of the operation — technology, for example. <<

    "Subject matter experts, including our analysts at SWAPA [the pilots' union], pleaded with management to make the investments into our tech infrastructure before we suffered an existential meltdown," said Nekouei.."


  30. Until the 90s SWA was legitimately great from the perspective of investors customers and employees. It was great because its original business model strictly emphasized markets where it could achieve huge competitive advantage. It achieved much lower costs and much more reliable ops than any Legacy carrier. It carefully avoided markets (e.g. Legacy fortress hubs, O&D that could not support frequent 737 service).
    Two major pieces to SWA’s collapse. First, in the later Kelleher years, SWA fixated on their positive press clips and public image. Management became inbred and refused to deal with the fact that its 1970s strategy needed to evolve. Second, and much more seriously, under Kelly SWA abandoned Kelleher’s strong belief that SWA needed to produce strong benefits for all stakeholders and shifted to the Jack Welsh type view of complete shareholder hegemony. Which of course did not mean a rigorous focus on investor returns but slavish adherence to the worldview of directors and senior managers. Suddenly McKinsey was all over the company, recommending things like expansion into markets where SWA would never be competitively strong and spending $2 billion for Airtran assets that were terrible fits with SWA’s fleet and network. Exec comp and stock buybacks boomed. Kelly viciously attacked the (extremely mild) no-buyback provisions of the taxpayer Covid bailouts as if they were an attack on the basic precepts of capitalism. As noted SWA was one of the strongest voices demanding that Boeing tell everyone that the MAX would not require any conversion training.
    So Scotts’ “skinflint” diagnosis, while understandable, isn’t really accurate. Kelleher’s original strategy wasn’t “skinflint”, it just avoided spending money on anything that wasn’t supporting its critical competitive advantages. SWA spent plenty on growth and reliability and strong communication with employees and customers. As others have pointed out Kelly’s refusal to spend wasn’t to protect its competitive cost advantage (which had massively shrunk) but to juice the quarterly numbers that determined management bonuses. Kelly’s refusal to spend on things like IT was always justified by references to 1980s practices that made good sense then but were now decades out of date.
    SWA’s problem is that its overall business strategy has been incoherent for at least 20 years. In the early Kelleher years every SWA practice was totally aligned with each other and the overall plane to produce years of profitable growth. Today everything is aligned with the effort to extract short-term cash. The pieces that work best are the surviving bits of what happened to work in the 1980s and 90s.

    • Just to add to the above comment, SW was also very devoted during Herb’s reign to the customer and employees.

  31. ‘Promotions, not job cuts, follow Southwest’s holiday chaos’:

    “Southwest Airlines announced a number of executive promotions on Monday, days after announcing that last month’s service meltdown will cost the company up to $825 million, but none of the changes involved the highest ranking officers.

    The airline said the changes “will strengthen our operational execution” while also saying they were long-planned and a continuation of restructuring that began in September under a new CEO, Robert Jordan..”


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