Southwest Airlines’ post-storm problem snarls holiday travel at Ohio airports

Dayton airport less affected, but Cincinnati, Columbus have many cancellations, no end in sight yet

Thousands of flight cancellations, most by Southwest Airlines, continued to disrupt holiday travel Tuesday, just as millions of Americans are trying to get to and from family gatherings. And the problem won’t be resolved immediately.

The Cincinnati and Columbus airports, used by many Dayton travelers, faced significant impacts Tuesday, while most flights appeared to be on time out of the Dayton International Airport.

At John Glenn Columbus International Airport, Southwest Airlines flights to Washington D.C., Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Phoenix, Tampa, Chicago, Baltimore, Nashville, and St. Louis were canceled. Incoming flights from most of the same cities, plus Atlanta, Sarasota and Fort Myers, were also scuttled.

“We’ve had impacts due to the winter weather event,” said Sarah McQuaide, communications and marketing manager for the Columbus Regional Airport Authority. “I think it’s similar to what other airports are seeing.”

While the massive winter storm that hit much of the country in recent days was a key factor, it doesn’t explain why Southwest Airlines accounted for most of the problem. Around noon Tuesday, more than 2,900 U.S. flights were canceled, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking service. More than 2,500 of the cancellations came from Southwest.

Henry Harteveldt, an airline analyst at Atmosphere Research Group, said that Southwest’s structure made it “uniquely vulnerable to weather problems, especially one as geographically extensive and as intensive as this storm has been.”

Some Southwest Airlines employees said on social media that an outdated crew scheduling system made it difficult to adjust to the large storm.

The airline itself issued a statement calling the disruption “unacceptable” and adding, “our heartfelt apologies for this are just beginning.” Southwest Airlines said it will continue to be on a reduced schedule over the next couple of days, flying about one-third of its normal flights.

“We’re working with safety at the forefront ... by repositioning crews and our fleet ultimately to best serve all who plan to travel with us,” the statement says. “On the other side of this, we’ll work to make things right for those we’ve let down, including our employees.”

Local AAA travel agents helped a moderate number of travelers in the Dayton region with rebooking their flights a few days ago. Kara Hitchens, AAA public affairs manager, said travel agents helped customers rebook their flights to either fly out a day early on Thursday or a day later on Saturday to avoid the worst of the winter storm on Friday.

“Most everyone who was trying to get out on Friday eventually were able to get to their destinations,” Hitchens said.

Most flights on Tuesday appeared to be on time out of the Dayton International Airport. By early afternoon, only one flight out of Dayton was canceled, according to the Dayton Internal Airport’s website, an American Airlines flight to Charlotte. There were also a few delays. Dayton Airport officials did not respond to requests for comment.

More delays and cancellations occurred Tuesday at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

“You would think it’s the weather, but sometimes you can’t just tell,” airport spokeswoman Mindy Kershner said. “It’s the airline’s decision to adjust (flights).” Flight cancellations could be due to weather but also due to staffing issues as flight crews have flight time limitations and rest requirements.

Across the country, Southwest canceled 62% of its flights Tuesday and about 70% of flights set to depart from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Canceled arrivals included Southwest flights from Chicago and Baltimore, according to the airport’s website. Some departures were also canceled, including Southwest flights to Chicago and Denver.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said on Twitter that it will look into the widespread Southwest Airlines flight delays and cancellations. The department said it will examine whether cancellations were controllable, as well as if Southwest was complying with its customer service plan.

Flight delays and cancellations across the U.S. were decreasing since the winter storm, according to FlightAware. The flight tracker on Monday had 9,259 delays within, into, or out of the U.S., along with 4,006 cancellations. On Tuesday, there were 2,768 delays and 2,960 cancellations. That is in comparison to over 11,000 flight delays and over 5,800 cancellations on Friday.

Over a dozen flights were canceled at the Dayton International Airport by Friday morning, with more cancellations coming Friday afternoon that amounted to approximately 48% of the Dayton airport’s flights by origin at that time, according to FlightAware.

This story also contains information from The New York Times.

About the Author