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Perspective | Former airline, enterprise journey columnist caught in Southwest chaos – The Washington Submit


Remark

It was a bit of after 4 p.m. Monday, and I had been at Pittsburgh Worldwide Airport for greater than 12 hours. I used to be praying my 5 p.m. Southwest Airways flight to Baltimore-Washington Worldwide Marshall Airport was going to take off. And thus far, so good.

However round 4:30 p.m., I noticed on the terminal that the flight was delayed till 5:30 p.m. Minutes later, I noticed that the flight was delayed till 6 p.m. Nonetheless, considering optimistically, a delay just isn’t a denial, and Southwest would have alerted me by way of electronic mail, textual content or its web site if it was going to cancel this flight.

As we approached 6 p.m., I regarded out the window close to Gate A1 and noticed the massive Boeing 737. Bam. We’ve a aircraft. However then the gate agent made an announcement: “Women and gents, we’re simply ready for the pilot.” We’ve no pilot. Lower than two minutes later, the identical agent says the flight was now canceled. My second canceled flight in two days. A whole bunch of indignant passengers converge on the already frazzled gate brokers who now discovered themselves within the crosshairs of tearful, profanity-spewing Southwest passengers.

Throughout my first six or so years as a Washington Submit author, I lined the airline business and wrote a enterprise journey column referred to as “Enterprise Class.” For 15 years earlier than that, I lined the airline business for different publications together with USA At present and Enterprise Week journal.

I’ve lined huge layoffs, downsizings and mergers throughout the airline business going again to TWA and US Air and US Airways. I’ve written in regards to the unprecedented grounding of the nation’s airways and fallout because of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist assaults. I’ve chronicled winter storms, hurricanes and different climate disasters that crippled airways and their operations.

However I’ve by no means seen something like what I noticed throughout Christmas weekend.

Southwest canceled 1000’s of flights this week, accounting for greater than 90 % of all U.S. airways flight canceled. The cancellations lasted greater than per week.

Southwest announced, by way of a broadly distributed press launch on Thursday, that it plans to return to “regular operations” on Friday and expects “minimal disruptions.”

The airline blamed its operation issues on a extreme winter storm that pummeled its operations. However different main airways, each bigger and smaller than Southwest, have been in a position to function nearly all of their flights by way of the storm. It appears Southwest’s issues have been extra than simply climate. The Post obtained a Dec. 21 inside memo concerning the airline’s Denver operations — amongst its largest operations within the nation — which noticed an “unusually excessive variety of absences” amongst ramp staff who have been utilizing sick or private days. In three of the 4 bullet factors within the memo, the airline threatened “termination” for these staff who “alleged” illness and couldn’t present a physician’s observe, tried to make use of a private day or who refused to work necessary additional time.

A day later, Southwest despatched an analogous memo to its brokers at BWI, additionally obtained by The Submit.

“These memos present Southwest was coping with unprecedented morale points days earlier than the storm occasion hit,” longtime airline analyst Joe Brancatelli stated.

With its low, nonrestrictive fares and cheerful, animated staff, Southwest for a lot of the late Nineteen Nineties and early-to-mid-2000s was greater than the go-to firm for price-conscious prospects; it turned a mannequin for a lot of retailers, inns and different firms that compete for loyal prospects and devoted staff. However longtime airline business marketing consultant Darryl Jenkins famous that because the airline expanded over latest years, it did so at the price of updating expertise and sustaining worker relations.

“They grew large and have become a ‘large boy’ airline. They turned so targeted on earnings, they did not modernize,” Jenkins stated. “Of all of the unhappy issues I’ve seen within the airline business in 40 years, that is on the prime of the checklist.”

Brancatelli stated the airline has been working with systemwide expertise that has not been upgraded because the Nineteen Nineties. “They haven’t up to date their customer support, cellphone system and crew scheduling methods in a long time. And it lastly caught up with them,” he stated.

Calls and emails to Southwest weren’t returned.

Ed Stewart, who was Southwest’s foremost spokesman for 15 years till his 2006 retirement and who now runs an airline consulting firm, nonetheless boasts in regards to the airline’s worker tradition and the workers’ month-to-month efficiency bonuses and being the one service by no means to have a layoff. However he stated it might take weeks earlier than Southwest executives work out what went so incorrect this previous week.

“It was positively extra than simply climate. However they want extra time to seek out out what occurred,” he stated.

After spending Christmas with household in Pittsburgh, I wanted to be again in Washington to attend a pal’s funeral on Wednesday. After my first flight was canceled Christmas night time, Southwest airport brokers inspired the lengthy line of displaced vacationers to go to its web site to rebook. However that didn’t work as a result of all flights have been marked “unavailable.” Once we referred to as the toll-free quantity, we bought busy indicators. Once I managed to get by way of, I used to be on-hold for 5 hours earlier than I gave up.

Earlier than dawn Monday, I used to be dropped off at Pittsburgh Worldwide and was greeted by a sea of our bodies of individuals laying throughout chairs, on their suitcases and throughout the tiled flooring. For a lot of of those vacationers, I later came upon, it was the primary Christmas they spent with household in three years as a result of pandemic.

In contrast to a number of different main airways, Southwest doesn’t have an settlement to fly their displaced passengers on different airways, so vacationers should buy tickets on their very own.

When the flight was canceled, I checked out different airways resembling American. However they needed $1,300 to $1,500 for a one-way flight. I then thought-about an previous trick I realized as an airline author, referred to as hidden-city flights. That is whenever you guide a one-way flight to a vacation spot that connects within the metropolis you truly need to fly into. For instance, I discovered a Delta Air Strains flight into New York’s John F. Kennedy Worldwide Airport that linked into Washington’s Reagan Nationwide Airport. As a result of I didn’t have baggage checked (by no means examine luggage throughout the holidays), I might have caught that flight to JFK and easily exited the airport in Washington versus catching the connection to JFK.

That $350 was a bit of expensive, and actually, I had uninterested in airways and airports. So, I opted to lease a automobile and drive the practically four-hour journey. I believed that was easy sufficient, since I reserved and bought a affirmation quantity from Enterprise in Pittsburgh. However the subsequent morning, I used to be referred to as by the supervisor to inform me not one of the rental firms had automobiles, regardless of what the web sites stated and the affirmation quantity I had printed out. My cousins and I have been utilizing our cellphones looking for me a rental in Pittsburgh. One employee stated I may need to tip an agent $150 to get a automobile. Sigh.

I’m so grateful for Saira Evans, the supervisor on the Hertz in Monroeville, Pa., who situated a automobile for me, no tip required and referred to as me. I joined the 1000’s of displaced Southwest passengers who have been navigating icy and slushy roads.

I not cowl the airline business. For the previous 16 or so years, I’ve been writing about murders, assaults, robberies and different violent crimes as a criminal offense and courts reporter in Washington. Readers have typically requested me if I missed overlaying airways. My response stays the identical: I recognize overlaying crime, which for probably the most half, leads to individuals being held accountable for his or her actions.

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