What Happened with Southwest Airlines?

 

Just so no one has expectations, I don’t know what happened with Southwest Airlines and its disaster over the holidays. But it was a huge disaster concerning the most basic part of their business. It would be as though a restaurant forgot to buy food. It would be like a shoe manufacturer forgetting to provide for laces. It would be like an airline not having airplanes to fly. Oh, wait.

Now, so far as I can tell, there are no public explanations. Except that some pilot, a backbencher probably wanting to score points for the pilots’ union, complained publicly and loudly that Southwest has lost its way by letting accountants run the airline. Does anyone really believe this to be the cause? Anyone besides the lazy and uneducated masses that form the body of j-urinalysts, that is? Having a sudden collapse that prevents flights from being scheduled doesn’t sound like a result of penny-pinching.

It sounds to me a lot more like a computer failure. Did their databases get hacked? Did a server farm catch fire? Honestly, computer scheduling software that has been running for decades doesn’t suddenly stop working all at once on a massive scale at the most important travel time of the year. I’m much more inclined to think this is vandalism, or worse, a criminal attack.

Why is no one asking these questions? Or am I missing the discussion somewhere? To me, this should be front-page news, but instead we have finger-pointing at Buttigieg as though some politician was supposed to run things.

Does anyone here have any insight?

Published in Business
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Join Ricochet for Free.

There are 67 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Michael Minnott Member
    Michael Minnott
    @MichaelMinnott

    It could be penny-pinching if the cause of the database failure was their IT department not being up to snuff.  Equipment failure, lack of redundancy, software not updated, lax security, etc.  Any number of things could cause it if they cut corners and weren’t updating their IT like they should.

    • #1
  2. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Michael Minnott (View Comment):

    It could be penny-pinching if the cause of the database failure was their IT department not being up to snuff. Equipment failure, lack of redundancy, software not updated, lax security, etc. Any number of things could cause it if they cut corners and weren’t updating their IT like they should.

    Eh, maybe.  But you’d think accountants would understand that basic equation.  They might not understand the art of customer satisfaction, but business school certainly teaches them that running an IT system is important.

    • #2
  3. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    The explanation that I saw (I don’t recall from where) was that, unlike most airlines, Southwest does not operate from hub cities; all operations are from their central headquarters. So, if they are short of crewmembers for an unanticipated reason in, say Chicago, they are not apt to have standby members in Chicago who can fill in; they have to bring someone in from headquarters. That explanation makes sense to me.

    • #3
  4. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    The explanation I saw was that they did have a computer failure, but it was not sabotage. It was outdated and not up to the task. 

    I don’t know why you are intent on seeing malevolence when incompetent greed that is perfectly in line with how companies mature after the founder leaves is the explanation. 

    The took the eye off of operations and put it on finance. As a former CEO and an Ops guy, I can tell you, companies make poor operational decisions in order to make money. I was let go without cause because I was not playing that game and focusing on operations. I know the drill. 

    The explanation from the Pilots sounds perfectly plausible. 

    • #4
  5. OldPhil Coolidge
    OldPhil
    @OldPhil

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    The explanation I saw was that they did have a computer failure, but it was not sabotage. It was outdated and not up to the task.

    I don’t know why you are intent on seeing malevolence when incompetent greed that is perfectly in line with how companies mature after the founder leaves is the explanation.

    The took the eye off of operations and put it on finance. As a former CEO and an Ops guy, I can tell you, companies make poor operational decisions in order to make money. I was let go without cause because I was not playing that game and focusing on operations. I know the drill.

    The explanation from the Pilots sounds perfectly plausible.

    Yep, everything I read was that the bad weather was just what tipped the whole system over the edge. Their systems couldn’t quickly adapt, couldn’t tell them where all their pilots and attendants were at any moment, etc., etc.

    • #5
  6. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Skyler:

    Does anyone here have any insight?

    Yes, but it’s mostly about things like Confucius, Augustine, William James–things like that.

    • #6
  7. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    A lot of aerospace has had problems with bean-counters running the show and emphasizing cost-cutting over safety and operational efficiency. It takes a long time to decide on a new software package to handle crew scheduling, and Southwest’s old system simply could not handle the volume of changes needed. It was bound to happen sooner or later. 

    • #7
  8. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    OldPhil (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    The explanation I saw was that they did have a computer failure, but it was not sabotage. It was outdated and not up to the task.

    I don’t know why you are intent on seeing malevolence when incompetent greed that is perfectly in line with how companies mature after the founder leaves is the explanation.

    The took the eye off of operations and put it on finance. As a former CEO and an Ops guy, I can tell you, companies make poor operational decisions in order to make money. I was let go without cause because I was not playing that game and focusing on operations. I know the drill.

    The explanation from the Pilots sounds perfectly plausible.

    Yep, everything I read was that the bad weather was just what tipped the whole system over the edge. Their systems couldn’t quickly adapt, couldn’t tell them where all their pilots and attendants were at any moment, etc., etc.

    They’ve had bad weather before.  They’ve scheduled pilots before.  There was nothing really to indicate that the problem was massively worse than ever before.  That explanation simply doesn’t fit.

    • #8
  9. Metalheaddoc Member
    Metalheaddoc
    @Metalheaddoc

    I don’t know much about business. But it seems plausible that when you take operations management out of the hands of people who DO things and put it in the hands of people who COUNT things, then the system might go sideways during a crisis.

     

     

    • #9
  10. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    The first thing that popped into my head was : the center cannot hold. Which inspired me to look up the quote, which I haven’t read in years. Thanks to a falcon/falconer exhibit I attended in Scotland this past August, I find it more chilling that I did in years past.

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

    Which is not to say I have any idea what happened with Southwest, it just seems like more and more things are falling apart or cannot be relied upon.

    My daughter and her husband got caught in the SW mess. Son in law had a flight booked for Dec 27 to bring equipment and do a show for New Years Eve. His flight was cancelled and there were no west-bound flights to be found anywhere in the state of Texas. He and my daughter and their 20-month old drove from College Station, TX to Los Angeles in 23 hours.

    • #10
  11. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    While anything is possible, I accept the story as is: it sounds like they had an increasingly brittle system which could not be re-started under pressure.  I’m certainly familiar with management who do not prioritize “luxuries” like fault tolerance and hot recovery because; like AF 447, nothing was actually broken until everything was.

    • #11
  12. WI Con Member
    WI Con
    @WICon

    Regardless of what cause/s were, when considering all of the information going in to any of the airlines systems: passenger information, frequent flyer miles & points, flight crew scheduling, maintenance & repairs, baggage & luggage, weather tracking & delays, the myriad online purchases & travel site booking interfaces…

    That’s a complex system. I’d be curious if there were certain modules (like the availability of those flight crews) that failed, which exacerbated the pressure on other parts of the system.

    ‘Help us Pete Butigig! You’re our only hope!’

    • #12
  13. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Skyler (View Comment):

    OldPhil (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    The explanation I saw was that they did have a computer failure, but it was not sabotage. It was outdated and not up to the task.

    I don’t know why you are intent on seeing malevolence when incompetent greed that is perfectly in line with how companies mature after the founder leaves is the explanation.

    The took the eye off of operations and put it on finance. As a former CEO and an Ops guy, I can tell you, companies make poor operational decisions in order to make money. I was let go without cause because I was not playing that game and focusing on operations. I know the drill.

    The explanation from the Pilots sounds perfectly plausible.

    Yep, everything I read was that the bad weather was just what tipped the whole system over the edge. Their systems couldn’t quickly adapt, couldn’t tell them where all their pilots and attendants were at any moment, etc., etc.

    They’ve had bad weather before. They’ve scheduled pilots before. There was nothing really to indicate that the problem was massively worse than ever before. That explanation simply doesn’t fit.

    Again, it fits with how these things happen. “Increasingly brittle” is a good way to put it.

    Clearly, I can’t prove a negative, i.e. that there was no sabotage. 

    • #13
  14. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    I can’t explain it, but we had a really good guy on the radio here named Jason Lewis. He eventually went national. Really smart. Became a congressman. I’m not going to get this perfectly right, but basically because of the government involvement, the ticket prices are too low so there isn’t enough slack in the system in various ways. That’s the continual tendency, then everybody bitches about things that go wrong.

    • #14
  15. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    I can’t explain it, but we had a really good guy on the radio here named Jason Lewis. He eventually went national. Really smart. Became a congressman. I’m not going to get this perfectly right, but basically because of the government involvement, the ticket prices are too low so there isn’t enough slack in the system in various ways. That’s the continual tendency, then everybody bitches about things that go wrong.

    This too. 

    Like just in time shipping.

    The supply chain is till gliched.

    • #15
  16. David C. Broussard Coolidge
    David C. Broussard
    @Dbroussa

    Skyler (View Comment):

    OldPhil (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    The explanation I saw was that they did have a computer failure, but it was not sabotage. It was outdated and not up to the task.

    I don’t know why you are intent on seeing malevolence when incompetent greed that is perfectly in line with how companies mature after the founder leaves is the explanation.

    The took the eye off of operations and put it on finance. As a former CEO and an Ops guy, I can tell you, companies make poor operational decisions in order to make money. I was let go without cause because I was not playing that game and focusing on operations. I know the drill.

    The explanation from the Pilots sounds perfectly plausible.

    Yep, everything I read was that the bad weather was just what tipped the whole system over the edge. Their systems couldn’t quickly adapt, couldn’t tell them where all their pilots and attendants were at any moment, etc., etc.

    They’ve had bad weather before. They’ve scheduled pilots before. There was nothing really to indicate that the problem was massively worse than ever before. That explanation simply doesn’t fit.

    They also had snafus before due to weather. In the end, the point to point system is harder to plan slack into, but is more amenable to the passenger. There is a reason that most airlines use a Hub and Spoke model, it’s easier and has redundancy built in. With SW, they don’t have that redundancy and when things gotnsideways, their old system that tracked and assigned people by phone wasn’t able to process things fast enough. Technical Debt is a real thing and it usually comes and bites you at the worst time. Continual investment in IT is a requirement of a well run business, but way too many leaders live by the aphorism that the cobblers kids have the worst shoes and skimp on internal systems thinking that the employees will be OK just working harder. When it blows up it can cripple or destroy your business. 

    • #16
  17. Bunsen Coolidge
    Bunsen
    @Bunsen

    And now today (1/11), the FAA has grounded all flights due to a “system outage”.   Apparently their National Air Mission System (NAS) went belly up.  This system notifies planes in the air about emergencies, etc so they can adjust as necessary.  Obviously no real explaniation as to what happened but pilots are speculating that the outdated system is reaching its limits.

    A friend of mine is a LUV pilot and he (and the vast majority of his co-workers) do believe it was the system.  There has been no talk of sabotage, etc. 

    Of course America’s Mayor will be MIA!

    • #17
  18. DonG (CAGW is a Scam) Coolidge
    DonG (CAGW is a Scam)
    @DonG

    Today’s headline is that all flights in the USA are canceled, because the FAA is having IT troubles.   Pete’s on it.

    • #18
  19. Bunsen Coolidge
    Bunsen
    @Bunsen

    https://www.foxbusiness.com/markets/hundreds-flights-grounded-nationwide-faa-experiences-computer-outage

    • #19
  20. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Bunsen (View Comment):
    And now today (1/11), the FAA has grounded all flights due to a “system outage”.   Apparently their National Air Mission System (NAS) went belly up.  This system notifies planes in the air about emergencies, etc so they can adjust as necessary.  Obviously no real explaniation as to what happened but pilots are speculating that the outdated system is reaching its limits.

    Doesn’t look like it.  The sun has just risen on the east coast:

    On further digging, it’s pretty sparse.  I see a lot of flights in the air that are an hour or more delayed, and I found a flight for Newark diverting to DCA — so far just the one divert in a sample of 20 or so.

    • #20
  21. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

     

     

     

     

    • #21
  22. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    I will point out another reason for Southwest’s brittleness: a shortage of pilots. In 2020 and early 2021 they encouraged pilots to retire early or simply leave. In 2021 they fired a bunch of pilots that refused the Covid jab. That meant their supply of pilots left no slack in the system. They had fewer pilots available, making it more difficult to get spare pilots when needed.

    Note there was no one thing that caused this. It was a combination of things that eventually peaked together.

    • #22
  23. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Previous to the current administration, NOTAM stood for Notice to Airmen, not for Notice to Air Missions.

    • #23
  24. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    This is what happens when you put the centralized bureaucracy of a have a highly regulated industry in the hands of a clueless administrator who’s only qualifications are the boxes their demographics checks.

    • #24
  25. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    And how much money did FJB just spend on “infrastructure”?    I guess the FAA’s IT doesn’t provide a good enough photo op.

    • #25
  26. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    I have no difficulty with the stated explanation that the scheduling system broke down when demand exceeded its ability to function. All systems have limits to their performance. Perhaps Southwest’s scheduling system’s limits were too low for the size airline Southwest had become, but it should surprise no one that there are limits to what a scheduling system can do.

    I worked for a company that made electromechanical systems for printing. The company made many models of systems for different volumes of printing. A customer with a system designed to print 25,000 prints per month started printing 100,000 prints per month, the customer would start experiencing a lot of failures that the customer would not have experienced had the customer acquired a system designed to print 100,000 prints per month. 

    It is perfectly logical that the amount of rescheduling required because of the weather that extended across a large portion of the U.S.A. exceeded the performance capabilities of Southwest’s scheduling system. 

    • #26
  27. Red Herring Coolidge
    Red Herring
    @EHerring

    BDB (View Comment):

    Bunsen (View Comment):
    And now today (1/11), the FAA has grounded all flights due to a “system outage”. Apparently their National Air Mission System (NAS) went belly up. This system notifies planes in the air about emergencies, etc so they can adjust as necessary. Obviously no real explaniation as to what happened but pilots are speculating that the outdated system is reaching its limits.

    Doesn’t look like it. The sun has just risen on the east coast:

    On further digging, it’s pretty sparse. I see a lot of flights in the air that are an hour or more delayed, and I found a flight for Newark diverting to DCA — so far just the one divert in a sample of 20 or so.

    Planes already in the air incoming and outgoing international.

    • #27
  28. Red Herring Coolidge
    Red Herring
    @EHerring

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Previous to the current administration, NOTAM stood for Notice to Airmen, not for Notice to Air Missions.

    Effective Date: December 2, 2021

    Their explanation: ”Changed the acronym NOTAM from Notice to Airmen to the more applicable term Notice to Air Missions, which is inclusive of all aviators and missions.”

    My husband’s explanation: Had to eliminate “airmen” to be more inclusive. The word contains “men.” 

    • #28
  29. Bunsen Coolidge
    Bunsen
    @Bunsen

    Red Herring (View Comment):

    BDB (View Comment):

    Bunsen (View Comment):
    And now today (1/11), the FAA has grounded all flights due to a “system outage”. Apparently their National Air Mission System (NAS) went belly up. This system notifies planes in the air about emergencies, etc so they can adjust as necessary. Obviously no real explaniation as to what happened but pilots are speculating that the outdated system is reaching its limits.

    Doesn’t look like it. The sun has just risen on the east coast:

    On further digging, it’s pretty sparse. I see a lot of flights in the air that are an hour or more delayed, and I found a flight for Newark diverting to DCA — so far just the one divert in a sample of 20 or so.

    Planes already in the air incoming and outgoing international.

    As usual I might be a little behind

    • #29
  30. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Red Herring (View Comment):

    BDB (View Comment):

    Bunsen (View Comment):
    And now today (1/11), the FAA has grounded all flights due to a “system outage”. Apparently their National Air Mission System (NAS) went belly up. This system notifies planes in the air about emergencies, etc so they can adjust as necessary. Obviously no real explaniation as to what happened but pilots are speculating that the outdated system is reaching its limits.

    Doesn’t look like it. The sun has just risen on the east coast:

    On further digging, it’s pretty sparse. I see a lot of flights in the air that are an hour or more delayed, and I found a flight for Newark diverting to DCA — so far just the one divert in a sample of 20 or so.

    Planes already in the air incoming and outgoing international.

    Most of these were domestic in the 40 or so I sampled.  Easily half were delayed, many by over an hour, a handful by several hours.  Consistent with a “shutdown” that was somewhat applied / somewhat honored.

    At any rate, looks like things are in motion again.  It’ll be all day unsnarling this one.

    • #30
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.