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Southwest cancels thousands more U.S. flights on weather woes


Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N) on Tuesday led U.S. airline cancellations again as the low-cost carrier struggled with harsh winter weather that grounded planes and left some workers unable to tend to jets, disrupting holiday travel for many.

The carrier had canceled 2,541 flights as of Tuesday 10.54 am ET or roughly two-thirds of its schedule, according to tracking website FlightAware, sending Southwest’s shares down as much as 6.3% to a two-month low of $33.81.

An arctic blast and a massive winter storm dubbed Elliott swept over much of the United States in the lead-up to the Christmas holiday weekend, forcing Southwest to scrap more than 12,000 flights since Friday.

The company has a more aggressive schedule than most other U.S. airlines and tighter turnaround times to accommodate its network that connects vast swathes of the country.

It earns most of its profits from flying domestically and unlike other large U.S. carriers, Southwest relies more on point-to-point service instead of operating out of large hubs. That leaves its staff vulnerable to being stranded in case of disruptions.

The airline’s cancellations on Tuesday were 30 times more than those of Spirit Airlines (SAVE.N), the carrier with the second-most cancellations. Additionally, Southwest called off 2,508 flights scheduled for Wednesday.

The official POTUS handle for U.S. President Joe Biden tweeted on Tuesday that his administration was working to ensure airlines were “held accountable.”

Southwest’s troubles have invited scrutiny from the U.S. Transportation Department as well, which has said it would examine the widespread disruptions to determine if they were in the airline’s control, branding them “unacceptable.”

“We expect Southwest to call out the impact (from the storm) as it was worse than the industry and likely hurt earnings more than a ‘normal’ storm,” Cowen analyst Helane Becker said in a note.

“Other airlines likely had manageable cancellations and delays, and actually appear to have recovered (in time to get everyone home).”

Staff could not stay outdoors for long due to the risk of frostbite, crimping Southwest’s ability to fly, said Randy Barnes, president of TWU Local 555, a union that represents the carrier’s ramp, operations, provisioning and freight agents.

The weather has thrown Southwest’s staffing into chaos since Friday, prompting its chief executive, Bob Jordan, to promise investments in upgrading the company’s systems, according to a memo obtained by CNN.

In total, airlines have canceled more than 5,000 U.S. flights for Tuesday and Wednesday.

Shares in other U.S. carriers such as Alaska Air Group (ALK.N), JetBlue Airways Corp (JBLU.O) and Spirit Airlines fell about 1% to 2%.

Related Galleries:

People wait in long lines for the Southwest Airlines check-in counters at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport where flight delays and cancellations stranded passengers in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S. December 26, 2022. Joe Rondone/USA Today Network via REUTERS/File Photo

Passengers check in for a Southwest Airlines flight at Orlando International Airport in Orlando, Florida, U.S., October 11, 2021 . REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo

A Southwest Airlines commercial aircraft approaches to land at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, California U.S. January 18, 2022. REUTERS/Mike Blake