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Southwest Airlines Cancels 1,800 Flights, Blaming Weather And Staffing

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Southwest Airlines canceled more than 1,800 flights this weekend, disrupting the travel plans of thousands of customers and stranding flight crews — the airline blamed the meltdown on a combination of bad weather, air traffic control and its own shortage of available staff.

“I know this is incredibly difficult for all of you, and our Customers are not happy,” Alan Kasher executive vice president of daily flight operations told staff in a note on Sunday, which was seen by CNBC.

The airline said initial problems on bad weather and an “FAA-imposed air traffic management program” were to blame.

“Although we were staffed for the weekend, we could not anticipate the significant disruption that was created from unexpected ATC issues and bad weather across our Florida stations,” said Kasher.

Other airlines canceled relatively few flights. Southwest did not comment on the disparity.

The Federal Aviation Administration said there were a “few hours” of flight delays on Friday afternoon because of severe weather and staffing issues at Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center, which controls airspace in five parts of Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina.

“No FAA air traffic staffing shortages have been reported since Friday,” the FAA said. “Some airlines continue to experience scheduling challenges due to aircraft and crews being out of place. Please contact the airlines for details about current flight schedules.”

Southwest’s major destinations of Denver, Baltimore, Dallas Love Field and Chicago Midway were among the hardest hit by the cancellations on Sunday.

Southwest apologized to travelers for long customer service waits. The airline said in a statement it expected to get close to normal operations by Sunday, but disruptions worsened.

Southwest’s Kasher acknowledged to employees in his note Sunday that some crew members didn’t have hotel rooms last night and said disruptions can quickly snowball as flight crews hit contractual and federal working limits.

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“Right now, our [network operations center] Teams are working to protect our Crew network and prevent misconnects — both for our Crews and Customers — that would cause an even greater impact,” he said. “And Teams are working to determine the best course of action to most quickly reset our network.”

The Dallas-based airline canceled 1,019 flights on Sunday, 28% of its schedule, after canceling 808 flights on Saturday, according to flight-tracking site FlightAware. American Airlines, which operates a large hub in Miami, in comparison, canceled 66 mainline flights, or 2% of its operation on Saturday and Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Spirit Airlines canceled 32 flights, 4% of its schedule.

Staffing shortages fueled hundreds of cancellations and delays at Southwest over the summer. The airline trimmed its schedule … (Read more)

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