DALLAS (AP) – Southwest Airlines planes were briefly grounded across the country Tuesday because of what the airline called an intermittent technology problem, leading to more than 1,800 flight delays just four months after the carrier suffered a much larger meltdown over the Christmas travel rush.
The hold on departures was lifted late in the morning, according to Southwest and the Federal Aviation Administration, but not before traffic at airports from Denver to New York City was backed up.
“Southwest has resumed operations after temporarily suspending flight operations this morning to work through data connectivity issues resulting from a firewall failure,”[ads1]; the Dallas-based airline said in a prepared statement. “Early this morning, a vendor-supplied firewall went down and the connection to some operational data was unexpectedly lost.”
Southwest encouraged customers to check their flight status “and explore self-service options” for travel while the airline worked to restore operations.
By noon on the East Coast, more than 40% of all Southwest flights were delayed, and the airline accounted for nearly two-thirds of all delays nationwide. On the bright side, Southwest had only canceled about a dozen flights, in line with other major airlines, according to FlightAware.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg retweeted an FAA post about the ground stop, adding, “We’re here to make sure passengers have strong protections when airline errors like this affect their plans.” He referred travelers to a Department for Transport checklist of passengers’ rights, and his press secretary pointed out that “no other airlines experienced disruption”.
Tuesday’s delays added to the image of an airline that has struggled more than most with technology problems.
“It was a 17-minute ground stop. This will have no long-term impact on Southwest’s reputation, said Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst at Atmosphere Research Group. “What matters now for Southwest is to get to the bottom of it and do everything it can to make sure incidents like this don’t happen again.”
Rob Britton, a former American Airlines executive who teaches crisis management at Georgetown University, said the damage from Tuesday’s incident will be small but will help tarnish Southwest’s image. He said Southwest has underinvested in technology while growing rapidly, and it suffers from an “insular culture” that “keeps them from looking outside for solutions.”
In December, Southwest canceled nearly 17,000 flights during a 10-day stretch around Christmas — ruining holiday travel plans for well over 2 million people — when a winter storm shut down operations in Denver and Chicago and the airline’s pilot and flight attendant rescheduling system. was overwhelmed.
Those cancellations cost the airline more than $1 billion and led to an ongoing investigation by the Department of Transportation.
The airline’s unions have said they warned management about problems with the crew scheduling system after an earlier meltdown in October 2021.
Chief executive Robert Jordan has launched a campaign to repair the airline’s damaged reputation. Southwest said last month it would add de-icing equipment and increase staffing in winter weather that is cold enough to limit the amount of time ground workers can stay outside.
Southwest Airlines Co. was the biggest decliner among major airlines on Monday, retreating more than 1%.