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Southwest Becomes One of America's Least Reliable Airlines

Date: April 30, 2022

BYKELLY MAIN,INC

Southwest Airlines has had a number of great ideas. Free checked bags, flexible tickets, and efficient route planning that kept planes in the sky--and its profit margins as high as possible. Amid the pandemic, it had another brilliant idea. And it's backfired. 

As competing airlines were downsizing routes and destinations, Southwest decided to expand. Its expansion strategy was a bold move that made it more convenient than ever. 

By adding new destinations and routes, it was effectively meeting people where they were. But, months later, the bold move is proving to be a bad move, as the airline lacked one major thing every growing business needs: the infrastructure to support its growth

Now, Southwest is in a position no business wants to be in: Its selling point is growing into a pain point, as it increasingly cancels and changes flights. And putting its customers in a position no one wants to be in, facing last-minute trip changes, cancellations, and the stress of rebooking--oftentimes with competing airlines and at much higher, same-day rates.  

Keeping planes in the sky is keeping passengers on the ground 

A major reason Southwest is canceling and changing flights on passengers is that it lacks the infrastructure and staff to uphold its flights should it face a hiccup in sourcing its scheduled plane and crew. In other words, its additional destinations and routes are diluting its ability to uphold its reliability as it holds onto old methods as it expands. 

Most major airlines, like United or Delta, have hubs strategically placed throughout the country to give them quick and easy access to planes and staff on short notice. Southwest, on the other hand, does not. Or at least not yet. Instead of using the industry's traditional "hub and spoke" system, Southwest uses a "point-to-point" system

Southwest does not have large hubs with planes and crews on standby like other major carriers because it works to schedule flights more efficiently. This keeps planes flying as much as possible throughout the day, which increases revenue. 

But when one plane gets held up on the other side of the country, Southwest doesn't always have the ability to locate a new plane and crew. In response, it might delay the flight significantly as it tries to locate an available aircraft, or it might simply cancel the flight. 

Southwest now has the second-highest cancellation rate  

Southwest was previously one of the most reliable carriers in the U.S. But, in more recent months, it has become one of the least reliable, with a high number of flight cancellations. For example: 

Keep in mind that these are just the mass cancellations that made headlines--not all of the cancellations that occurred throughout any of the months. When contacted, Southwest did not respond to requests for comment.

The most recent data tell us that out of all of the major U.S. airlines, Southwest has the second-highest cancellation rate, just behind Spirit Airlines. For perspective, recent data shows that, statistically, Southwest is seven times more likely to cancel a flight than Delta. 

As Southwest seeks growth without change, passengers are seeking to change airlines 

As Southwest increases its number of destinations, it's not budging on its "point-to-point" system. While it worked for the airline when it had a short roster of routes, it doesn't work for a growing number of routes and destinations. As it holds onto doing what has served it in the past, it's failing to serve its customers (and its employees) in the present. 

Southwest's poorly executed expansion strategy is damaging its reputation and its record of reliability--and trust--as its flexible booking policy is turning bookings into a gamble. Canceled flights mean wasted time, added stress, missed meetings, and lost opportunities. It doesn't work for those traveling for work or pleasure--and neither does offering something you can't uphold. 

Even the most brilliant growth strategy will fail a business--and its customers--if it doesn't have the infrastructure required to support growth. Southwest is making the rookie mistake of holding onto what got it to where it is, not realizing that this won't get it to where it wants to be. In return, it is fumbling to deliver the value it sells, leaving customers running into the arms (or, in this case, seats) of competitors.


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