June 15, 2024

“A smart man learns from his mistakes. A wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”

Ancient Proverb

The story of the Southwest Airlines 2022 meltdown is an epic example of a company ran with gross neglect to the computer systems that support their core operations. Whereas at first their management tried blame-shifting and trying to pass the narrative that it was the snowstorm that caused their problems and that these were experienced across the whole airline industry, FlightAware statistics contradict this claim and show that well over 90% of the cancelled flights during the recent storm, were with Southwest and not the other airlines.

As information is beginning to emerge in the media, it is now evident that it was a massive computer crash that left their entire fleet of aircraft and reported 66,100 employees standing around for the better part of four days – imagine the payroll and operating losses on that!

CNN is quoting Captain Casey Murray, the president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association as saying, “We’ve been having these issues for the past 20 months. We’ve seen these sorts of meltdowns occur on a much more regular basis and it really just has to do with outdated processes and outdated IT. It’s phones, its computers, it’s processing power, it’s the programs used to connect us to airplanes – that’s where the problem lies, and it’s systemic throughout the whole airline.”

His sentiments are echoed by the CEO Bob Jordan, in a message to employees promising the company will invest in better computer systems. “We’ve talked an awful lot about modernizing the operation, and the need to do that.” In talking about spilled milk, Jordan made numerous statements about fixing the problems, but not much about how it was that a $20B company could find itself in a situation like that. The answer is obviously uncomfortable as over the past 8 years SWA has been focused on massive stock buy-backs, while obviously neglecting what is now being reported as a decade-old computer network.

SWA is now admitting that this one four-day event cost the company $75M, but it is quite likely that the true costs are higher. The $75M this cost them could have bought them a whole lot of computers and engineering.

Although a customer like SWA is out of scope for a firm our size, we at UTS help our customers deal with similar challenges by being proactive planners and helping them make sense of technology planning. We help clients with setting reasonable budgets and keeping to them, as well as evaluating whether outsourcing or subscriptions make sense for them.

Certainly, this is a case where an ounce of prevention would be worth a pound of cure.


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