<img alt="" src="https://secure.leadforensics.com/199896.png" style="display:none;">

The Southwest Airlines Scheduling System Meltdown

James Proctor
James Proctor


Crowd Sourcing Requirements for a Crew Scheduling System

swa heart logo

I am a big fan of Southwest Airlines (SWA) and fly SWA frequently. However, it appears that SWA dropped the ball big-time in connection with the storms of late December / early January resulting in thousands of cancelled flights, egregiously late departures and arrivals, missed connections and stranding thousands of passengers across SWA’s flight network.

Generally, I would attribute this debacle to bad weather. In my book Mastering Business Chaos, I even give a shoutout to passenger airlines in general [P. 155 – Ode to the Airlines!]

“Let me interject here to advocate a bit for the airlines. I am a frequent flyer. From my experience, it is amazing how well the airline industry “runs” in an extremely chaotic environment. There are so many moving parts in the airline industry! There are different types of equipment, different flight crews across the world, international schedules and time zones, multiple languages, FAA regulations and inclement weather (even volcanic ash) – the list is long.

To me, the airline industry does an excellent job of mastering their particular chaos. Despite all these moving parts, many of which are completely out of their control, the airlines achieve solid consistent results across a wide range of metrics such as on-time arrival, departure and flight safety.”

However, after reading numerous articles regarding the SWA scheduling debacle, it appears that weather was the proximate cause, but the root cause appears to be SWA’s dated crew scheduling processes and an antiquated Crew Scheduling System (CSS) – which appears, among other issues, to lack sufficient sophisticated functionality to deal with scheduling stress in SWA’s complex flight network structure.

This is surprising to me. From a customer/passenger perspective, I view SWA as a tightly organized and well operated machine. The flight turnarounds are quick, typically depart and arrive on time, the planes are clean and modern (for the most part) and the gate and flight crews are knowledgeable, friendly, and customer service oriented.

However, as Warren Buffet once said, “It’s only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” And in this case, the tide was a prolonged severe weather system. The prolonged severe weather system exposed that behind SWA’s pristine outward appearance there are deep operational and IT issues – at least in connection with crew scheduling processes and supporting information technology.

SWA provides excellent customer value and has deep customer loyalty – very difficult to achieve in today’s commoditized business ecosystem. However, if the systemic business process and IT modernization issues are not addressed, SWA runs the risk of losing that deep customer loyalty and being viewed by customers as just another tone-deaf dysfunctional airline.

For those of you that also Luv SWA and/or are interested and intrigued by the complexity of the business requirements that enable effective, efficient, agile management of crew scheduling, I recently conducted a 3-part webinar series, primarily as a learning opportunity, focused on the critical thinking associated with complex requirements:

Part 1: Develop a basic conceptual data model to support crew scheduling.

Part 2: Identify key/core transactional and business data analytic requirements for crew scheduling.

Part 3: Identify and run critical scenarios to validate the requirements for managing crew scheduling

The objective of this 3-part series is to provide a learning opportunity to improve critical thinking regarding complex requirements. Group collaboration is essential to identifying and analyzing business rules and requirements – this is where the critical thinking occurs.  

Videos of the 3-part series are now available at https://www.inteqgroup.com/iluvswa

Next Steps

Let's start a conversation regarding your business analysis goals and objectives and how our training courses can assist in your journey.

Contact Us

Visit our Knowledge Hub for additional posts, whitepapers, videos, webinars and frameworks.

Check out our business analysis training courses and our consulting services.

Visit my YouTube Channel

Connect with me on LinkedIn