DALLAS (AP) — Southwest Airlines flights were briefly grounded across the country Tuesday. Christmas travel rush.
According to Southwest and the Federal Aviation Administration, the ban on departures was lifted late in the morning, but not before traffic was backed up at airports from Denver to New York City.
“Southwest has resumed operations after temporarily suspending flight operations this morning to address data connectivity issues resulting from a firewall failure,” the Dallas-based airline said in a prepared statement. “Early this morning, the vendor-supplied firewall went down and the connection to some operational data was unexpectedly disconnected.”
Southwest asked customers to check their flight status and explore self-service options for travel as the airline works to restore operations.
By noon on the East Coast, more than 40% of all Southwest flights were delayed, and the airline accounted for nearly two-thirds of all delays nationwide. On the positive side, Southwest has only had about a dozen flight cancellations in line with other major airlines, according to FlightAware.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg retweeted the FAA’s post about the ground stop, saying, “We’re here to make sure passengers have strong protections when flight failures like this affect their plans.” He referred passengers to the Department of Transportation’s passenger rights checklist, and his press secretary pointed out that “no other airlines have experienced disruptions.”
Tuesday’s delays added to the picture of an airline increasingly beset by technical problems.
“It’s a 17-minute ground stop. It won’t do any long-term damage to Southwest’s reputation,” said Henry Hartveldt, a travel analyst at the Atmospheric Research Group. “What’s important for Southwest now is to do everything it can to make sure incidents like this don’t happen again.”
Rob Britton, a former American Airlines executive who teaches crisis management at Georgetown University, said the damage from Tuesday’s incident will be small but will erode Southwest’s image. Southwest invests less in technology, is growing faster, and suffers from an “insular culture” that “holds back the search for solutions.”
In December, Southwest canceled nearly 17,000 flights in a 10-day stretch around Christmas — wrecking holiday travel plans for more than 2 million people — as a winter storm grounded operations in Denver and Chicago and overwhelmed the replacement system for pilots and flight attendants.
Those cancellations cost the airline more than $1 billion and led to a Department of Transportation investigation.
The airline’s unions said they alerted management to problems with the workforce scheduling system after a previous meltdown in October 2021.
CEO Robert Jordan has embarked on a campaign to repair the airline’s damaged reputation. Southwest said last month it would add deicing equipment and increase staffing Winters are cold enough to limit the amount of time underground workers can spend outside.
Southwest Airlines was the biggest decliner among the major airlines on Monday, retreating more than 1%.