Southwest Airlines temporarily paused service on Tuesday morning over an unspecified internal technical issue, resulting in delays for nearly half of its flights only months after the company experienced a severe meltdown over the holiday travel season.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Southwest requested a nationwide pause in departures and announced less than one hour later that the “pause has been lifted and their service has resumed.” The agency added that the temporary disruption was caused by a “technical issue with one of their internal systems.”
Roughly 1,800 Southwest flights, equivalent to 43% of the carrier’s departures, were delayed as of early Tuesday afternoon, according to data from FlightAware, significantly exceeding the 5% of flights delayed at both United Airlines and American Airlines.
“We’ve resumed operations this morning following a pause in service,” Southwest said in a statement posted to social media, which added that the company would “work to restore operations and accommodate disrupted customers as quickly as possible.”
The technical issue comes after Southwest canceled some 16,700 flights between December 21 and December 31 amid heavy winter storms that impacted the United States in the days before Christmas. Even as other carriers resumed normal operations, Southwest continued to delay and cancel an elevated number of flights for several days. The company estimated that between $725 million and $825 million would be lost in the aftermath of the cancellations and reported an immediate $220 million loss in the fourth quarter of last year.
“Let me be clear: we messed up. In hindsight, we did not have enough winter operational resilience,” Southwest Airlines COO Andrew Watterson said in recent remarks before the Senate Commerce Committee. “This created an unprecedented amount and frequency of required changes to crew schedules that overwhelmed our crew scheduling processes and technology.”
The company is unique among other major airlines in that flights are arranged in a point-to-point system rather than a hub model. Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said in the fourth quarter earnings report that “the priority of technology and other investments” will be elevated this year to bolster “operational resilience.”
Executives have attempted to regain the trust of disgruntled customers after thousands of passengers saw their flights delayed or canceled. At least some received reward points amounting to $300 in value; the company has also vowed to reimburse flyers for meals, hotel accommodations, rental cars, and tickets purchased with other carriers.
“Southwest is intensely focused on reducing the risk of repeating the operational disruption we experienced in December,” Watterson added. “We are committed to running a great operation each and every day, and I have the utmost confidence that our people, processes, and technologies will do just that.”
The months since the Southwest cancellations have seen multiple air travel anomalies. The FAA grounded all flights nationwide early on January 11 as the agency’s Notice to Air Missions system failed; officials later determined that “personnel unintentionally deleted files while working to correct synchronization between the live primary database and a backup database.” A terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City was closed on February 16 and reopened on February 17 due to a power outage and electrical panel fire.