The Air Current - Jon Ostrower and Courtney Miller

A data-driven look inside the largest operational meltdown in U.S. aviation history.

Three weeks after the worst operational meltdown in U.S. airline history, the broad strokes of Southwest Airlines’ epic failure are widely known. Disruptions caused by a fierce winter storm overwhelmed Southwest’s outdated crew scheduling software, forcing a complete reset of its operations that stranded tens of thousands of customers over the holidays. The airline estimates that the fiasco will cost it around $825 million, including about $425 million in lost revenue.

Although the meltdown was Southwest’s worst, it wasn’t its first. In October 2021, the airline faced another major issue with its crew scheduling system when air traffic control interruptions from storms in Florida sent waves of chaos across its nodal network at a time when it was facing an acute shortage of available crews. The carrier was actively exploring options for upgrading its software throughout 2022, but moved too slowly to prevent an exacerbated repeat of that operational collapse.

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