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Technical Glitch Grounds Southwest Flights — Again

Southwest Airlines temporarily grounded all flights on April 18 due to computer malfunction, causing over 1,500 delays

by Lauren Smith

April 19, 2023

Photo: Southwest Airlines hub at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood. Courtesy of Southwest Airlines / Stephen M. Keller

A computer malfunction forced Southwest Airlines to temporarily ground all flights on Tuesday morning—a further setback for the low-cost carrier currently under federal scrutiny for its holiday meltdown.

The Dallas-based airline requested that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issue a national ground stop for all its flights at 10:30 AM EDT on April 18. The FAA said the pause was in response to “an internal technical issue” at Southwest.

The halt led to more than 1,500 flight delays for the controversy-hit airline. However, while Southwest initially warned passengers that they could wait up to six hours for departures, the actual waits proved shorter.

Photo: Southwest Airlines control center. Courtesy of Stephen M. Keller / Southwest Airlines

The ground stop was lifted less than an hour after it was issued, and Southwest resumed operations with “no further impact” on flight activity. Ultimately, Southwest canceled fewer than a dozen flights on Tuesday, according to data from FlightAware.

In the aftermath, the airline blamed the pause on the failure of a firewall provided by a third party.

“Early this morning, a vendor-supplied firewall went down, and connection to some operational data was unexpectedly lost. Southwest Teams worked quickly to minimize flight disruptions,” the carrier said in a statement.

Southwest said it “appreciate[s] the patience” of its passengers and crew during the “brief disruption.”

The hiccup comes just four months after Southwest infuriated around two million travelers when it canceled 16,700 flights around the holidays. While all airlines experienced difficulties when a “bomb cyclone” struck the U.S. between December 21 and 26, bringing freezing temperatures and blizzard conditions from coast to coast, Southwest struggled to recover.

Photo: Houston Hobby. Courtesy of Stephen M. Keller, Southwest Airlines

As the weather cleared, the airline still canceled thousands of flights, misplaced luggage, and left stranded passengers and crew on hold for hours to arrange alternative transportation and accommodation.

Observers have blamed Southwest’s difficulties on its outdated crew-scheduling software, which couldn’t match crews with understaffed flights, and a breakdown in communications between operations centers.

The meltdown triggered investigations by the Department of Transportation and the Senate Commerce Committee.

Southwest pledged to invest $1.3 billion to upgrade and maintain its IT system in 2023 and has admitted that the chaos will likely cost it up to $1 billion in compensation and reimbursement cost and lost revenue.

The fallout from the Tuesday morning disruption was far smaller, but it’s a further repetitional hit for Southwest, struggling to shake off December headlines. The airline previously admitted its revenue could take a dent of up to $350 million in the first quarter of 2023 as spooked travelers cancel their Southwest flights or opt to book with a rival.

The airline is due to publish its official first-quarter results on April 27.