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Southwest Airlines operations are slowly returning to normal after days of delays and cancellations.



RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

OKAY. Southwest Airlines is expected to operate at a level closer to normal today; this after thousands of flight delays and cancellations over the bank holiday weekend. Passengers were stranded for days at the airport, and all of this could be a sign of more disruptions to come. This is NPR’s David Schaper.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Jean Walsh, fifty-two, had booked a flight from southwest Washington, DC to Oakland with a brief stopover in Chicago on Saturday afternoon, but she was still home when I got her. joined late yesterday.

JEAN WALSH: Well, what is it? It’s Monday ? Because I lost track. It’s Tuesday ? It’s Tuesday. Yes.

SCHAPER: His Saturday flight was canceled. The flight she booked for Sunday was canceled, same as Monday. And Walsh became frustrated after spending hours queuing at the airport, waiting on the phone and trying to book online to no avail.

WALSH: And so I just decided if I needed – if I wanted to get out of DC, I had to go my own way. So I just booked a flight on another airline to Denver where I know people, and now I’m here and waiting to get back to Oakland.

SCHAPER: And tens of thousands of other Southwest customers have had similar travel nightmares over the past five days.

HENRY HARTEVELDT: What we saw, frankly, was an alarming amount of incompetence on the part of one of the largest airlines in the United States.

SCHAPER: Travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt said there were significant weather and air traffic control issues in the southeast on Friday that resulted in delays and cancellations in the whole industry.

HARTEVELDT: And while other airlines have been able to return to normal operating levels fairly quickly, Southwest has struggled. And on Sunday, they just totally collapsed.

SCHAPER: One of the reasons is that, unlike hub airlines like American, Delta, and United, Southwest flies point-to-point, says DePaul University airline expert Joe Schwieterman.

JOE SCHWIETERMAN: And when you do that, you’re not commuting back and forth to a hub, it makes recovery a lot more complicated because pilots are stranded all over the country. And you can’t just replace one flight with another entering and exiting the hub.

SCHAPER: But Schwieterman says airlines should plan ahead for such disruptions. And he says Southwest’s statements blaming bad weather and FAA air traffic control issues don’t match.

SCHWIETERMAN: I’ve been watching aviation for a long time, and this one is a bit of a conundrum because there isn’t a smoking gun that is completely believable. It drags on and suggests that the work climate at Southwest and the workforce models they use for staffing may be out of whack.

SCHAPER: The Southwest Pilots Union attributes the weekend’s meltdown to the airline’s poor planning and what it calls an operation so fragile it is subject to massive failures at the slightest pressure. The union denies that some pilots have declared themselves ill in protest against Southwest’s vaccination mandate, but warns that mass layoffs of unvaccinated pilots as the airline is threatened could lead to much more serious flight cancellations during peak season holidays.

David Schaper, NPR News.

(EXTRACT FROM LEMON JELLY’S “’68 AKA ONLY TIME”)

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