Southwest Flights Grounded Today As Technical Issue Threatened Travel Chaos

Update 4/18/2023: Added statement from Southwest Airlines

Southwest briefly paused close to a third of its flights around the United States on Tuesday. Over 1,200 flights had been canceled in total, leading to travel chaos across the country. According to the FAA, the flights had been grounded due to "equipment issues." Southwest's website and app also appeared to be having problems, possibly due to the number of passengers attempting to gain access and check on their flight status.

Southwest has yet to issue an official statement but has responded to some concerned passengers on Twitter. In response to a customer seemingly stuck on a plane, the airline tweeted: "We know traveling is tough on its own, and we're very sorry for the delays today. As of now, we do not have a time frame for when this will be resolved. Please know that our Teams across the board are working diligently to get you on your way ASAP."

Shortly thereafter, the FAA resumed Southwest flights. The total delay lasted approximately 30 minutes. Dan Landson, Spokesperson for the airline told SlashGear, "Southwest has resumed operations after temporarily pausing flight activity this morning to work through data connection issues resulting from a firewall failure. 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. We ask that travelers use Southwest.com to check flight status or visit a Southwest Airlines Customer Service Agent at the airport for assistance with travel needs. We appreciate the patience of our Customers and Employees during this morning's brief disruption."

History is not on Southwest's side

This isn't Southwest's first time plunging travelers into chaos recently. The airline was one of several impacted significantly by deadly blizzards in late December 2022, as dramatic weather conditions saw planes grounded and airports shuttered. However, Southwest took markedly longer to resume services than rivals like American Airlines and Delta, and its flight schedule saw considerably more disruption.

In fact, more than 5,500 Southwest flights were canceled within just a couple of days, more than a factor of ten greater than other airlines. Experts at the time blamed outdated computer systems for the problems, specifically Southwest's ability to manage pilots, cabin crew, and other staff. Where Delta, AA, and others were able to track the location of crew automatically and route them accordingly, Southwest was reportedly forced to do that process by hand.

The mayhem was so pronounced, it caught the attention of the U.S. Congress, including the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. "The Committee will be looking into the causes of these disruptions and its impact to consumers," Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said in December, voicing concerns that inadequate communication with customers and insufficient refunds were also a point of contention. The Committee had previously pushed the Department of Transportation (DOT) to strengthen consumer protections around covering secondary costs — including hotels, meals, and transportation — incurred when passengers are forced to wait out canceled and delayed flights.