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'You were warned': Senators target Southwest Airlines December travel breakdown in hearing

Southwest Airlines Chief Operating Officer Andrew Watterson, right, and Southwest Airlines Pilots Association President Captain Casey Murray testify before members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation about Southwest's operational meltdown in December 2022 on Feb. 9, 2023.
Mariam Zuhaib
Southwest Airlines Pilots Association President Captain Casey Murray, left, and Southwest Airlines COO Andrew Watterson testify before members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation about Southwest's operational meltdown in December 2022 on Feb. 9, 2023.

Senators from across the country, including Ted Cruz, shared stories of constituents left stranded by Southwest's widespread cancellations and delays in the aftermath of a winter storm that other airlines seemed to recover from.

Members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation criticized Southwest Airlines during a hearing Thursday on the December operational meltdown that caused thousands of cancellations and delays during the holiday season.

In his opening remarks to the committee, Southwest’s Chief Operating Officer Andrew Watterson said the weather and crew scheduling issues were key factors in the disruptions but said he and other executives understand they "messed up."

“We understand that for many, this is perhaps the most important trip they take all year,” Watterson said. “Again, on behalf of Southwest Airlines, I am deeply sorry.”

Southwest Airlines reported it lost hundreds of millions of dollars following the December meltdown. The Dallas-based airline has also been the target of several lawsuits, with shareholders saying Southwest purposely hid the extent of outdated technology over the years.

Watterson said Southwest invested more than $1 billion into making sure what happened in December never happens again, and that the company has worked to ensure all customers were rightfully compensated for any inconveniences.

Others who answered questions before the committee included Captain Casey A. Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, and aviation executives who provided insight on the situation.

Southwest pilots’ union members were also in attendance, but the airline’s CEO Bob Jordan was not.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, serves as chair of the committee and remarked on Jordan’s absence at the hearing.

“I definitely think Herb Kelleher would be here if he was the CEO,” Cantwell said.

Southwest pilots have been sounding the alarm for years on the airline’s IT issues and flawed scheduling system, Murray said, but their concerns have been ignored.

According to data from Murray’s written testimony, Southwest had at least a dozen significant operational disruptions even before the pandemic. On a November episode of SWAPA’s official podcast, Murray said the airline was “one thunderstorm, one air traffic control event, one IT router failure away from a complete meltdown.”

Watterson confirmed the pilots union warned Southwest executives of potential issues in their scheduling and IT systems and said the airline had taken action to address some of them.

But Sen. Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, said that wasn't enough.

“That is absolutely unacceptable,” Markey said. “You were warned. That mismanagement absolutely led to real pain, real harm for families.”

Got a tip? Email Toluwani Osibamowo at You can follow Toluwani on Twitter @tosibamowo.

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Toluwani Osibamowo is a general assignments reporter for KERA. She previously worked as a news intern for Texas Tech Public Media and copy editor for Texas Tech University’s student newspaper, The Daily Toreador, before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She is originally from Plano.