Southwest 737 MAX Cancellations May Throw a Wrench in Spring Break Plans

Apr 2, 2019

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On the heels of an extension of 737 MAX cancellations just last week, Southwest announced in a memo on Friday that it will be extending those cancellations even further into the calendar from late April into May, according to USA Today.

In the memo, which was sent to the airline’s pilots by Southwest Pilots Association President Jon Weaks and Southwest Vice President of Flight Operations Alan Kasher, the airline said that with the extension, it can build its MAX-less schedule “well in advance in hopes to minimize the daily disruptions.”

Southwest is the biggest operator of the 737 MAX in the world, with 34 of the MAX 8 variant. The airline has a fleet of more than 700 airplanes altogther, so it’s able to take up some of the slack, but 34 grounded jets is no small problem for any airline, even a giant one. So, Southwest has to get creative with how its uses its planes, and it’s deciding to cancel some flights preemptively.

Or, in the slightly more bureaucratic language of a statement the airline emailed, “the reliability-minded solution came after an overall analysis of the schedule period followed by a redeployment of fleet to meet the needs of various operational constraints, while maintaining itinerary integrity for the highest number of Customers.” Translation: We’ve got to cancel a bunch of flights, but we tried to do so in a way that affects the fewest possible passengers.

However, some spring breakers, like TPG contributor Edward Pizzarello, are feeling the pinch. Pizzarello was scheduled to fly on a 737 MAX, and after finding out about the extension, he  contacted the airline. “I knew going into the call that [Southwest] had no other flights that were close to my original itinerary,” said Pizzarello. He said Southwest offered only to cancel the flights and issue a refund, and that any compensation would need to be determined by Customer Service. When Pizzarello asked if canceling now and calling customer service later would affect his ability to ask for compensation, since he was choosing to cancel voluntarily, the agent said she “had no idea” and had not been given any instructions on how to deal with customers affected by the MAX, other than to allow rebooking according to Southwest’s existing policies.

Southwest did not directly answer TPG‘s question about what instructions customer service agents have been given on how to deal with customers affected by the MAX.

For passengers affected by the latest schedule changes, Southwest said that, “Any Customer booked on a cancelled 737 MAX 8 flight can rebook on alternate flights without any additional fees or fare differences between the original city pairs.” Customers who did not purchase their ticket via can call 1-800-435-9792 to speak with a customer representative. (For more info, customers can check out the Travel Advisory posted on the airline’s website.)

Southwest has ferried its 737 MAX into the desert for storage, resulting in the cancellation of approximately 90 flights per day.

Between the MAX grounding, government shutdown, worse-than-expected winter weather and maintenance issues, the airline expects its revenue the first quarter of this year to be $210 million less than previously forecast.

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