Southwest accounts for more than half of all cancellations at Logan as officials investigate

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called the situation a “meltdown.”

Passengers at Logan Airport in Boston experienced more travel disruptions from Southwest Airlines this week. David L. Ryan/Boston Globe

Another day, another headache for travelers hoping to reach their holiday destinations using Southwest Airlines. 

The airline, which has been forced to delay and cancel thousands of flights since last week’s storm, had another bad day Wednesday. At Logan Airport, a total of 49 flights were canceled as of about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Southwest was responsible for 29 cancellations, more than half of the total amount, according to flight tracking service Flight Aware. On Tuesday, 30 of the 56 total cancellations at Logan were Southwest flights.  

The worrying trend can be seen nationwide. Flight Aware tracked a total of 2,890 cancellations within, into, or out of the United States on Wednesday, as of about 7:30 p.m. Southwest was responsible for 2,509 of those cancellations. That amounts to about 61% of all their flights being canceled Wednesday, according to Flight Aware. 


The problems are not expected to resolve anytime in the immediate future. By Wednesday evening, Southwest had preemptively canceled more than 2,300 flights scheduled for Thursday. 

Last weekend’s storm began the crisis, as it disrupted service for every airline. Although severe weather has subsided in many parts of the country, including Boston, Southwest’s operational challenges continue. 

Now, federal officials are getting involved. The Department of Transportation said on Tuesday that the rate of cancellations was “unacceptable,” and that the department will examine whether or not they were “controllable.”

Appearing on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called the situation a “meltdown.”

“We are past the point where they could say that this is a weather-driven issue. Don’t get me wrong, all of this began with that severe storm… But as of today, the rest of the aviation system is down to a rate of about 4% of flights being canceled,” he told ABC. “We’re north of 60% right now when it comes to Southwest. What this indicates is a system failure, and they need to make sure that these stranded passengers get to where they need to go and that they are provided adequate compensation.” 


The “system failure” Buttigieg mentioned appears to be, at least partially, the result of Southwest’s “point-to-point” operational model. This unique configuration dictates that planes fly directly from destination to destination without returning to one or two central hubs, The New York Times reported. Most other airlines use a “hub-and-spoke” model, where planes return to a major hub after completing a round trip to a particular destination. 

“Point-to-point” systems like Southwest’s are especially vulnerable to the impacts of severe weather, according to the Times. Storms can force airlines to change multiple flights and routes, leaving pilots and flight attendants out of position and unable to make their scheduled trips. 

Compounding this problem is Southwest’s outdated computer system, which made it hard to quickly reposition flight crews to where they needed to be. Southwest also does not have agreements with other airlines to rebook passengers, meaning that customers are stuck waiting days until the airline gets back on track, according to the Times

Southwest CEO Bob Jordan apologized to customers in a video posted Tuesday, calling the situation a “giant puzzle” that the airline is taking several days to solve. 


“Our network is highly complex and the operation of the airline counts on all the pieces, especially aircraft and crews remaining in motion to where they’re planned to go. With our large fleet of airplanes and flight crews out of position in dozens of locations, and after days of trying to operate as much of our full schedule across the busy holiday weekend, we reached a decision point to significantly reduce our flying to catch up,” Jordan said in the video. 

Jordan and Buttigieg have been engaged in discussions with each other about Southwest’s problems, both of them said this week. 

Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey called out Southwest on Tuesday, saying that it was “failing consumers” and that it must compensate passengers for rebooked tickets, ticket refunds, and hotel, meal, and transportation costs associated with canceled flights. 

Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee Sen. Maria Cantwell said Tuesday that the committee will investigate the causes of the disruptions and how customers are being impacted. 

“Think of it from the perspective of a passenger, especially if you are somewhere where you don’t know anybody, you’re stranded, and the hotels are getting booked up,” Buttigieg told ABC. “It is putting people under extreme stress, especially people traveling with children and they need to be made whole.”


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