Southwest Airlines flight pause reminds some of December’s meltdown

Flights nationwide were stopped for 30 minutes on Tuesday because of a firewall problem.

By Shelly BrisbinApril 19, 2023 1:38 pm,

Southwest Airlines paused all departures for around 30 minutes Tuesday morning, delaying thousands of flights across the country because of a computer system failure.

The issue – which the Federal Aviation Administration is looking int0 – wasn’t Southwest’s first major service disruption. In December, the airline experienced a major meltdown at the height of the holiday travel season; different kinds of computer issues were also at the root of that event.

Alexandra Skores, who covers aviation for the Dallas Morning News, told Texas Standard that after a day of delays, Southwest flights are now back on schedule. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: What a lot of passengers were hearing yesterday as they saw their flights being delayed was that there were computer errors. Once again, what did Southwest say about why it paused all of its departures yesterday?

Alexandra Skores: We heard from the FAA around 9:30 Central time that Southwest had basically just paused all flights from there. About 30 minutes later, we heard that it was because of a firewall failure. They had resumed. And Southwest ultimately came out and said they were trying to work through some data connection issues because of that. But after that, they had experienced some residual delays, but nothing more than that.

Remind us about what happened with Southwest back in December. How similar is it to what happened yesterday?

It’s definitely not anything in comparison to what happened in December. Obviously, a disruption is still a disruption. But this was 30 minutes versus a series of days over a holiday period back in December that displaced thousands of people across the country. So this isn’t as large in comparison. But again, there are a lot of folks that were displaced for a little bit. Their flights were significantly delayed. And Southwest had to try and figure out where to put them.

Thinking about the ripple effects, what about all those travelers? Did everyone get where they needed to go yesterday? Is it still having an impact on the system?

It seems as though everything’s back to normal as of this morning and they’re not experiencing any significant delays or cancellations. We did talk to Southwest earlier in the afternoon yesterday, and they said there were some residual delays as a result of everything being put on pause for 30 minutes in the morning. But it seems as though they’re back on track.

Given what happened in December, how is the FAA thinking about what’s happening with Southwest and its issues with computers? And how are the FAA and other agencies investigating what happened?

Back in February, there was actually a Senate committee hearing where the Southwest chief operating officer was kind of put on the stand for what happened in December. And after yesterday, we heard from the chair of that committee hearing, who also said that this is just a demonstration that Southwest needs to upgrade their systems and stop impacting travelers in this way.

What do you think that the implications might be for Southwest? I’m thinking business implications. I notice that their ticker price on the New York Stock Exchange began to slump quite a bit as all of this was unfolding yesterday.

Right. They’ll be reporting earnings this month, I believe. So we’ll definitely probably hear from their CEO, Bob Jordan, about what this means for the company. And obviously some plans in place, hopefully to try to mitigate a problem like this.

Is Southwest going to pay some kind of price for this in terms of its business or perhaps even face fines or be held accountable in some way?

It’s unclear as of right now, but there are definitely folks that are taking a hard look at their tech issues and trying to look at what accountability measures might need to be put in place.

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