Southwest Senate Testimony on Holiday Crisis to Advertise Corrections

A Southwest Airlines passenger plane lands at Chicago Midway International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, December 28, 2022.

Kamil Krzhachinsky | AFP | Getty Images

southwestern airlines plans to apologize Senate Thursday’s panel on the carrier’s December crash that left hundreds of thousands of travelers stranded over the Christmas period.

“Looking back, we didn’t have enough operational resilience to winter conditions,” Chief Operating Officer Andrew Watterson said in an affidavit that was reviewed by CNBC ahead of the Senate Commerce Committee hearing.

Southwest canceled more than 16,700 flights between Dec. 21 and Dec. 31 as its crew planning software couldn’t keep up with massive flight disruptions due to severe winter weather. The fiasco caused $800 million in damages before taxes and resulted in a net loss for the carrier last quarter.

Watterson plans to tell the committee that the carrier has made short-term improvements to make it easier to communicate with crews when something goes wrong and has improved tools that monitor performance stability.

With these mitigation tools, “we have confidence in our network of flights and the schedules we have posted for sale,” Watterson plans to say, according to the deposition. “The Crew software update will allow us to better handle mass cancellation recovery.”

Committee chair Senator Maria Cantwell, Washington, called the hearing as political pressure mounts over a slew of flight disruptions last year that have increased the cost of travel, if not disrupted it, for thousands of consumers.

Legislators have also targeted airline fees. President Joe Biden, among other fees, is seeking to reduce the fee for a seat in Parliament and mentioned this during his speech on Wednesday evening.

Southwest CEO Bob Jordan, a veteran with more than three years with the carrier and one year in the role, will not attend Thursday’s hearing. The rep said Jordan had previous commitments, including an employee event.

The hearing will also include testimony from Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Pilots Union; Sharon Pinkerton, Senior Vice President of Legislative and Regulatory Policy at Airlines for America, an industry group representing the nation’s largest airlines; Paul Hudson, president of consumer advocacy group Flyers’ Rights; and Clifford Winston, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

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