January 3

3 Big Southwest Airlines Meltdown Mistakes And How You Can Avoid Them

What a challenging holiday season this has been. We’ve dealt with shipping delays impacting gifts, endured bitter-cold arriving from Siberia, and the biggest of all – experienced unprecedented nightmare travel conditions which included the big Southwest Airlines meltdown.

As the holidays come to an end, I am sure the memories of this season haunt us as we move forward with making travel plans for 2023.

While there was little we could do about the supply chain issues and the blast of cold weather, we somehow managed to navigate those challenges without too much trouble. 

The Holiday Debacle of 2022

Epic Southwest Airlines Meltdown Leaves Thousands Stranded

We apologized for gifts that would be late, and offered a small token in return. We put on a few extra clothes and stayed close to the fire and heaters as we ate our holiday meal. Well, most of us did anyway.

But the holiday challenge with the biggest impact was the ordeal mostly caused by the big Southwest Airlines meltdown.

With more than 3,100 flights canceled on Christmas Day and another 5,500 canceled the day after, Southwest passengers found themselves stranded and celebrating the holidays sleeping on an airport floor and eating a cold sandwich with strangers. Not exactly your ideal holiday.

Southwest Airlines Meltdown Leaves Thousands Stranded

People Sleeping In The Airport Due To Southwest Airlines Meltdown Of 2022

To make matters worse, while some of the delays were due to understandable issues such as weather and short staffing issues, the majority of the delays were caused by the ineffective management that led to an epic Southwest Airlines meltdown.

More than 87% of the canceled flights were Southwest. 

Now, I am not going to spend this article beating up on the CEO of Southwest Airlines. Lord knows he is getting enough of that right now. But I think from every situation, good and bad, there is something we as business owners, leaders and sales professionals can learn. And if we don’t embrace that opportunity, we may be at risk of possibly making the same mistakes. 

Check out the three big mistakes we believe the CEO of Southwest made, and then take some time to review your own business, your own team and your own pipeline. Then use the information to become a better leader and more effectively serve your clients. 

3 Big Mistakes Southwest Airlines CEO Made and How You Can Avoid Them

Short Term Over Long-Term Growth

By now you have heard that most of the delays and issues leading up to the Southwest Airlines meltdown were caused by an out-of-date computer system. The current system used by Southwest Airlines could not keep up with the needs of the holiday season.

So why was Southwest’s computer system out of date? Well, while we are not privy to the C-Suite conversations, we can make a pretty good guess. 

The CEO of Southwest focused more on short-term results than long-term growth. In other words, he was managing the board and investors' desires for quarterly results, rather than putting the long-term health of the company and customers first. 

Now, this can be tricky for any CEO. If you do not produce results, your board and investors will not be too happy with you, and as a CEO you will feel the brunt of that.

By putting off necessary infrastructure and systems that reduce short term gains, you put the long-term growth (more important to every investor, board) at serious risk. 

Balancing Risk and Opportunity

And speaking of risk, every CEO has to manage risk and opportunity – that is their priority, and why they are in the role of CEO. Every single day the CEO has to make the decision if the opportunity they are contemplating is worth the risk.

The risk surrounding this Southwest Airlines meltdown was an extremely outdated computer system, and the opportunity was probably something like being able to invest the money in other parts of the business such as advertising, promotions, etc.

This CEO, I would say, did a bad job of assessing the risk and the opportunity. There was no amount of opportunity that could outweigh the risk of the computer system failing, flights not taking off, and passengers being stranded.

Every opportunity you have as a CEO, leader, and sales professional comes with some level of risk. 

You need to think that through, talk with other experts on your team, and take the opportunity that positions you for long-term growth without risking the reputation and success of your company. 

Communicating Without a Plan

For the past few days you have been hard pressed to turn on the television and not see the CEO of Southwest airlines apologizing and promising to get things back on track. 

Okay, I will give him a nod for taking ownership. But what is the plan? 

How are they going to do it? And why should I book with Southwest again if they cannot assure me or show me they won’t make this mistake again? 

Losing your reputation is as bad as it can get for a company. The only way to make it worse is to show your customers that you are disorganized, unsure about your plans and lack the resources to get the problem handled. 

Crisis management and communication needs to be your top priority, and you need to prepare for it long before the crisis happens.

Certainly your customers want to be apologized to. Yes, they want to be heard and listened to. But more than anything, they want to know that you have a plan so they can trust you again. Without that, you will never turn this crisis around.

Summing Up

So yes, this is going to be a long road for Southwest Airlines, and it will be interesting to see how and what it takes for them to win back the public’s trust after this epic meltdown.

But while they sort things out, this is a great opportunity for us all to look at our own businesses. Ask yourself what we can learn from the Southwest Airlines meltdown and how we can better position ourselves for long-term growth. 

Are you fully prepared to take advantage of opportunities without risking too much, and ready to act when a crisis does occur? 

Want to learn more about how to turn uncertainty to competitive advantage?

Check out our free tools and resources and learn from more than 250 years of research. 

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Meridith Elliott Powell

Voted one of the Top 15 Business Growth Experts to watch by Currency Fair, highly engaging corporate motivational keynote speaker Meridith Elliott Powell delivers a cutting-edge message, rooted in real-life examples and real-world knowledge. Meridith’s presentations are full of powerful content, highly interactive, and fun. She helps her clients learn the leadership development, sales and business growth strategies to turn uncertainty to competitive advantage.

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