Southwest Grounds Hundreds of Flights as It Races to Fix Widespread Mechanical Issues

Feb 20, 2019

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Southwest’s state of “operational emergency” was apparent Tuesday when more than 40 of its planes were out of commission  — more than double the average for a typical day, according to CNN.

According to FlightAware records for Tuesday, 186 Southwest flights were canceled, which is 4% of its operations, while another 730 were delayed.

While some of those irregular operations may have been affected by weather from winter storm Petra, Southwest’s issues were exacerbated by the shortage of serviceable aircraft among its 700-odd fleet of Boeing 737s. 

Since the airline operates on a point-to-point model as opposed to the hub-and-spoke model of larger carriers such as United and Delta, the plane shortage led to a domino effect of flight delays, cancellations and other disruptions throughout the nation.

The airline has canceled hundreds of flights since the beginning of February due to a number of unrelated mechanical issues with its fleet. As first reported by CNN, the various issues have proven to be overwhelming despite the airline’s mechanics working “all hands on-deck.”

The family-friendly carrier has been besieged with a series of complex issues in recent months.

First, there was last year’s freak accident engine explosion, which resulted in a window blowout and the tragic death of a passenger. The airline’s first-ever inflight death in half a century led to a series of investigations into Southwest’s maintenance processes, which led to an “abnormally high number” of planes being taken out of service for inspection.

Meanwhile, the airline has been talking about launching flights to Hawaii for two years now, but has been delayed due to the government shutdown in addition to the overall process of acquiring the requisite permitting, ETOPS certification and safety-checking its 737s for airworthiness over such a significant distance, especially over open water.

The government shutdown also cost the airline six times more revenue than anticipated.

And just this week alone, Southwest has had to field two other big PR hits. The Wall Street Journal reported that the FAA is auditing Southwest for a number of significant weight discrepancies between its reported checked bag weights and its planes’ actual takeoff weight, as calculated by the pilots. 

And just this week, Goldman Sachs demoted Southwest’s valuation over a number of factors, including an expected short-term dip in profits when the Hawaii routes launch.

The headline of this story has been edited to clarify that Southwest grounded hundreds of flights, not hundreds of planes. 

Featured image by Marco Garcia for The Points Guy

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