Southwest CEO on its recent wave of flight cancellations: 'I don't remember an event like that' that created so many problems

In a new interview with Yahoo Finance's Adam Shapiro, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly discusses the airline's recent wave of cancellations that sparked intense criticism.

Video Transcript

- And that balance between a brand that people do love. There are advertising executives who talk about the relationship between a consumer and a company when they, quote, "love the company, they'll forgive the mistakes."

And of course, we've talked about last week during earnings, the problems that happened that were beyond the airline's control with weather impacting Florida, and yet you have this linear route system. As you go forward, with Southwest ever consider changing that kind of business model so as to, one, keep your consumers happy when there are hiccups in the system? Or is it still going to be what we've seen in the past, the linear routing is opposed to this hub and spoke?

GARY KELLY: It'll still be linear. And again, over the course of time, there are going to be one off events. And that was more than weather. Weather compounded the problem. But that was really staffing shortages within the air traffic control center in Jacksonville, Florida is what the FAA has said. And it impacted as significantly because we had close to 200 airplanes that, by Friday evening, were out of position with 66 different locations that we needed to get them and our flight crews to. And you know, in my history at Southwest, I don't remember an event like that that created such problems.

So we do have opportunities though to rebuild our route network, which has been dismantled to a degree in this pandemic just to try to survive the collapse in demand. So we've got a theory that we call back bone, which is a real dense set of frequencies between important city centers in our route map. And we'll build those back. And it will definitely create better resilience for us to recover in the future.

So it's a very tried and true system. Obviously, it served as well. No one comes close to the success Southwest has had in the airline industry. So every reason to believe that we can continue to be very successful with this point-to-point system going forward.

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