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Idalia aftermath will test Southwest Airlines after winter meltdown

More than 2.7 million Americans are slated to travel on Friday ahead of the Labor Day holiday, just days after Hurricane Idalia's landfall.
Idalia aftermath will test Southwest Airlines after winter meltdown
Posted at 11:22 AM, Aug 30, 2023

In December 2022, a major winter storm forced thousands of flights across the U.S. to cancel, leaving passengers stranded with no way home. 

Typically, those travel issues go away within days of a storm. But as the weather improved across the U.S. after Christmas, many remained stranded. 

Now, just days before the Labor Day travel weekend gets underway, several airports in the Southeast are closed due to Hurricane Idalia. The once powerful Category 4 hurricane caused hundreds of flights to be canceled and several major airports to close. 

Airports such as Tampa International and Tallahassee International haven't said when normal operations will resume, but Idalia is expected to slide off the Carolina coast by Thursday. 

SEE MORE: Airports shut down due to Idalia; flights across US affected

The aftermath from Idalia will be a good test to see if ongoing changes made by Southwest Airlines are working. The airline canceled nearly 60% of its flights in the week after Christmas. The airline said logistical issues with connecting crew with airplanes and gaps in its winter weather preparedness were a challenge in the days after the storm. 

Southwest Airlines said it has a plan in place whenever Tampa International Airport reopens. The airline also said it has made adjustments at Orlando International Airport, as many flights there have been delayed or canceled. 

"We’re like everyone else — waiting to assess the aftermath and hopeful that we’ll resume normal operations tomorrow," a Southwest Airlines spokesperson said. "We don’t currently have widespread schedule adjustments in place for Thursday, but we encourage Customers to confirm their flight’s status at or the Southwest app. Our travel advisory remains active to provide Customers with maximum flexibility and self-service options."

"We do operate at a few other airports in Idalia’s path, but they are fairly small markets for us so not a significant impact to the schedule," the spokesperson added.

SEE MORE: American Airlines forced to pay customers for long tarmac delays

Costly disruptions

The airline said in a financial disclosure made earlier this year that the travel disruptions cost the company nearly $325 million. 

Southwest Airlines said has implemented a plan to prevent future disruptions. The airline said it has already completed a software upgrade that reassigns crews during disruptions. increased its phone system call capacity to handle large call volumes better, and improved the tool responsible for electronically notifying flight crews of their new flight assignments. 

These changes are also made in addition to actions to bolster its winter weather operation plan. 

Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan said in April that the airline's new operational plan should be fully implemented by the winter. 

"When we had weather events, we managed to reset and be right back on track the next morning, which is a sign of good management through the regular operations by our people," Southwest Airlines Chief Operating Officer Andrew Watterson told investors last month. 

The Federal Aviation Administration said it is not involved in canceling flights, but it takes a few steps to mitigate issues from the hurricane, including weatherizing air traffic control equipment to be ready as soon as a storm ends. 

"If travelers are concerned with their flight, they should check with their airline. The FAA does not cancel flights or shut down airports," the FAA said to Scripps News.

Labor Day travel

The Transportation Security Administration said it expects to process 14 million passengers from Sept. 1 through Sept. 6, with Sept. 1 being the busiest travel day. TSA said it expects to screen 2.7 million passengers Friday.

According to TSA, the agency has exceeded 2.7 million screenings 21 days this year. 

"We anticipate this Labor Day holiday weekend will be busy, with passenger volumes nearly 11% higher than last year — volumes that already exceeded 2019 Labor Day holiday travel volumes," said TSA Administrator David Pekoske. "We are prepared for the increase in travel volumes and are working closely with our airline and airport partners to make sure we are maintaining our wait time standards of 30 minutes and under for standard screening lanes, and 10 minutes and under for TSA PreCheck lanes."

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