Southwest Airlines Crisis Communication

Southwest Airlines is the world’s leading low-cost American airline and aviation company. The airlines experienced a crisis of delaying and canceling thousands of flights during the peak winter holiday season. It resulted in the form of cancelation of 15000 flights; fine of 140 million USD, 600 million reimbursements to the passengers, and accumulated losses of 1.2 billion USD. Today, we’ll discuss Southwest Airlines crisis communication plan; crisis event to the aviation brand, communication strategy; and lessons learned from Southwest Airlines crisis management.

Crisis Event to Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines experienced a severe crisis on December 21, 2022, due to the winter storm at the Denver International Airport. The vice president of the Airline declared the state of operational emergency; he gave the reason for the emergency situation due to the extreme cold and frigid conditions. Later, the company said that it happened due to a lack of coordination and collaboration among various departments.

Impact of the Southwest Airlines Crisis Management

  • The airline canceled 25% of the flights from December 21 to December 25
  • It cancelled 50% of the flights on December 26
  • Customers couldn’t find their luggage
  • The airline implemented a massive system reset
  • Canceling thousands of flights from December 26
  • Cancelling the sale of flight tickets
  • Poor scheduling and staffing mechanism of the airline; pilot were on hold and didn’t know about their duties
  • Passengers were standing at the airport and waiting to find an alternative flight

Southwest Airlines Crisis Communication Plan

Let’s discuss the main elements of the Southwest Airlines crisis communication plan or Southwest Airlines crisis management; they’re as follows;

Deflecting the Crisis

Initially, when the crisis event of the system failure struck the company Southwest Airlines, the airline brand put all the blame on the winter storm and bad weather. When the storm passed, other airlines started functioning properly; but the flights of Southwest Airlines kept cancelling and delaying. In other words, the airline brand tried to deflect the crisis by putting all the blame on the winter storm. Clearly, the aviation brand was experiencing poor system failure; the brand wasn’t ready to accept the internal problem.

Delayed Apology

Southwest Airlines issued a public apology to all the customers, passengers, and stakeholders 10 days later. The airline brand canceled thousands of flights and the passengers were waiting for days, some of them couldn’t even find their luggage. By the time, the aviation brand issued an apology to the public, it was very.

He said that in a conference; “we messed up and caused problems and we need to fix our problems, but it did start with the historic storm.” Many industry experts considered the airline’s apology was too little and a bit late for many families, passengers, and stakeholders who were stuck at the airport for days. The airline should have accepted the internal problem during the early stages of the crisis, rather than delaying flights.

System Reset

Southwest Airlines reset the aviation system of the company on December 26 to resolve the problem and get the system and flights back on track. It resulted in the form of cancellation of thousands of flights and stopped the sale of tickets. Usually, businesses and companies implement system reset and maintenance protocols during the off-season when there are a few flights of passengers. The system maintenance and reset protocol was a good step, but the timing of the system reset was very poor.


Southwest Airlines reimbursed the payment of approximately 600 million USD  to all the passengers for ticket refunds. It comprised approximately 300 USD to almost 2 million passengers; the amount may be small, but it was a great effort of the company to show remorse for its mistake. However, it showed the company’s strong commitment to resolving the problem.

Compensating Employees

In order to compensate employees, flight staff, attendants, and pilots, Southwest Airlines offered them premium and gratitude pay to the employees. It is because they were stuck with the passengers at the airport for a very long time. It allowed the company to rebuild the trust and confidence of the staff in the company about its quality services.


Southwest Airlines hired an external firm to investigate the problem and tried to comprehend why the crisis happened and what factors contributed to it. It showed the company’s strong commitment to analyzing the problem and implementing the most relevant solution to resolve the problem.

System Upgrade

Southwest Airlines allocated a significant amount of capital resources to technological and system upgrades of the airline; along with creating an operation review committee. It helped the company to avoid the occurrence of such incidents from happening again.

Lessons Learned from Southwest Airlines Crisis Management

Some of the main lessons learned from the Southwest Airlines crisis communication and Southwest Airlines crisis management; they’re as follows;

  • Timely apologized public, media, customers, and stakeholders
  • Instead of deflecting the problem, companies should acknowledge their internal issues
  • Compensating the customers and the employees
  • Conducting a thorough investigation to find out the reasons and factors causing the problem
  • Taking steps to resolve the problem

Conclusion: Southwest Airlines Crisis Management | Southwest Airlines Crisis Communication Plan

After an in-depth study of the Southwest Airlines crisis communication plan; we have realized that Southwest Airlines is the world’s leading low-cost airline. If you are learning about Southwest Airlines crisis management; then you should keep in mind the abovementioned crisis event, impact, communication strategy, and lessons learned from the crisis.

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