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Two Major Reasons Why Southwest Will Likely Cancel Flights This Summer

Like other airlines, Southwest has a pilot shortage, but there’s another problem on the horizon too.

For travelers anticipating a summer full of carefree vacations in far-flung locales (or even just a short plane trip away), airline news has been a little nerve-wracking lately. Delta, United, and American airlines have already announced that they are cutting flights to major airports. Now, it looks Southwest Airlines will most likely cancel flights too. There are two major reasons why Southwest will likely have to cut back just as summer travel starts warming up: a shortage of pilots and a shortage of planes.

The (sort of) good news is that while JetBlue, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines have already limited their summer travel destinations, Southwest is striving to stand out by not announcing any planned route cuts for the next few months.

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The airline is hoping to keep customers happy by making major route changes in the fall and winter months instead. But based on the overwhelming cancellation issues of 2022, there's a fair chance this wishful thinking won't hold up. 

A shortage of pilots is one of the main determinants. There is currently an estimated deficit of 8,000 pilots in North America, according to a report published by Oliver Wyman. Pilot training shortcomings, fewer military recruits, early retirements during the pandemic, and mandatory retirement at age 65 are all contributing factors, the report states.

In anticipation of this shortage, Southwest has tried to plan its summer schedule in a way in which most of its customers won't be affected. 

"We talked a lot about what's constraining the airline," stated Southwest's CEO Bob Jordan, during its first-quarter earnings call. "Right now, that is pilot hiring. So, we have aircraft effectively that we are not producing capacity out of today because the constraint is just pilots."

The airline is hoping to remedy this issue by attracting new talent and trained pilots this fall. But even if that is successful, another major issue is set to disrupt the airline's already dismal track record: airplane shortages.

Leading aviation engineering company Boeing has yet to provide Southwest with the full inventory of this year's airplane order. According to reporting by TheStreet, Southwest is currently set to receive 70 of the 737-8 Max planes they previously ordered—30 planes fewer than the original 90 they requested.

It might not sound like a lot, but Southwest was already down when Boeing failed to deliver 46 airplanes in 2022, according to Jordan's remarks from the earnings call. The main culprit is supplier quality issues, which are causing the engineering company to halt production and delivery worldwide until they are remedied, according to Reuters.

As a result, the airline could cut a whopping seven percent of its schedule, reports TheStreet. However, if all goes according to the plans laid out by Jordan during Southwest's earnings call, the schedule changes and route dissolutions should only take place from September onward. 

This doesn't leave a lot of room for unexpected issues that take place between now and then. If you're worried your Southwest travel plans might be affected, carefully read the ticket policy before booking, see what your options are for flights you've already bought, or pick up some travel insurance for those worst-case scenarios.

Katka Lapelosova
Kat is a born and raised New Yorker exploring the world as she writes, eats, and everything in between. Read more
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