Southwest awaits Senate hearing on vacation travel chaos

Passengers check in for a Southwest Airlines Co. flight. at Terminal 1 of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California on August 10, 2022.

Patrick T. Fallon | AFP | Getty Images

southwestern airlines‘COO to answer Senate questions panel on Thursday due to the carrier’s December crash that left thousands of passengers stranded over the holidays.

Andrew Watterson plans to apologize for the travel chaos before the Senate Commerce Committee. Southwest Airlines Pilots Association president Casey Murray will tell the commission that the carrier ignored warning signs about its operation, according to an affidavit reviewed by CNBC.

Southwest said it had canceled more than 16,700 flights between Dec. 21 and Dec. 31. The problems began due to severe winter weather in the US, but the carrier did not have the technology to keep up with the many flight changes, prompting the airline to cancel most flights. his schedule for several days to reset his work.

The chaos pushed Southwest to a loss in the latest quarter, costing it $800 million in pre-tax profit.

The incident ended a year of erratic travel for many passengers as airlines struggled to ramp up volumes to meet a rebound in demand. Pressure on the industry has increased over the past year as some lawmakers and the Biden administration push for increased consumer protections.

The pilots’ union, which is negotiating a contract with the company, as well as the flight attendants’ union have been warning of scheduling problems for years.

“Warning signs were ignored. Bad work was justified. Excuses have been made. Processes have atrophied. Core values ​​were forgotten,” Casey Murray said in an affidavit ahead of Thursday’s hearing.

Southwest’s chief operating officer plans to defend technology improvements after the December fiasco and other developments. Its executives said its crew rescheduling software was not designed to handle as many cancellations as it has in the past, but its supplier, General Electric said it delivered updates to Southwest that the airline is testing.

The hearing is due to begin at 10 a.m. ET, but a Senate briefing on a Chinese balloon shot down by the US over the weekend is likely to delay questioning.

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