Winter Storm Elliott brought brutally cold temperatures across much of the contiguous 48 states of the United States, with blizzard conditions in many areas. Spanning the week leading up to Christmas, the storm predictably caused havoc with holiday travel, from a massive pileup on the Ohio Turnpike to widespread airline cancellations.
Most airlines quickly recovered, but uniquely, Southwest Airlines collapsed, cancelling a stunning 71% of their flights the day after Christmas according to FlightAware's data on flight cancellations (and delays). On Wednesday, 28 December 2022, 18 airports in the U.S. saw 100 or more scheduled flights (arrivals or departures) cancelled, a total of 3,130 operations. Out of those, 92% (2,881) were Southwest operations. (Note: FlightAware offers a wealth of data but combines arrivals and departures at a specific airport for a specific airline; since a cancelled arrival one day may result in a cancelled departure on a subsequent day the numbers don't add up cleanly.)
Today's Featured Map shows these 18 airports on Wednesday, with a red disc representing Southwest's number of scheduled operations overlayed with a yellow-orange disc representing the number of cancelled operations. Southwest's largest not-a-hub is Denver, where 53% or 292 planned flight operations were cancelled. At Nashville, there's not much red because 75% of operations were cancelled. At Buffalo (not on the map), zero of Southwest's scheduled flights operated.
One remarkable aspect of the map is the number of airports in California, plus nearby Las Vegas and Phoenix, which escaped the deep freeze yet were still crushed operationally, bolstering arguments that the root cause of the problem was a lack of investment in tools to manage the operations of a large airline, with bad weather simply being a trigger.
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Karl L. Swartz.
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