Southwest Airlines cancels hundreds, delays thousands of holiday weekend flights

December 26, 2023 | by


Southwest Airlines’ holiday weekend was marred by cancellations and delays, causing frustration and inconvenience for thousands of travelers. Despite efforts to avoid the issues that plagued the airline in 2022, Southwest experienced hiccups over the weekend, with 426 flights canceled and 2,689 flights delayed. Dense fog in Chicago was blamed for the disruptions, preventing planes from landing. While Southwest aims for a full recovery by Tuesday, these interruptions serve as a reminder of the challenges faced by airlines during peak travel seasons. With millions of people traveling during the holiday season, the industry continues to work towards ensuring smoother and more efficient travel experiences for passengers.

Southwest Airlines cancels hundreds, delays thousands of holiday weekend flights

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Southwest Airlines cancellations and delays

Overview of the disruptions

Over the holiday weekend, Southwest Airlines experienced a significant number of cancellations and delays, causing disruptions for many travelers. While this year’s holiday travel season was generally smoother compared to last year, Southwest Airlines faced challenges in ensuring timely departures and arrivals for their passengers. As of Monday afternoon, FlightAware reported that 157 flights within, into, or out of the U.S. had been canceled, and 2,111 flights were delayed.

Preparations for the holiday season

To handle the anticipated surge in holiday travelers, U.S. airlines, including Southwest Airlines, made extensive preparations by hiring additional pilots, flight attendants, and other staff members. The aim was to avoid the long delays and cancellations that marred the travel experience in 2022, particularly the much-publicized Southwest Airlines debacle that affected more than 2 million passengers. Despite these efforts, Southwest Airlines experienced some hiccups over the weekend that they hoped to resolve by Monday.


Southwest Airlines’ previous travel issues in 2022

The airline industry as a whole struggled with various travel issues in 2022, and Southwest Airlines was no exception. The airline faced a widespread operational breakdown in October 2022, which resulted in thousands of canceled and delayed flights, leaving passengers stranded for days. This incident shed light on the vulnerabilities and challenges that airlines faced in managing the complexities of a recovering travel industry.

Recent disruptions over the weekend

During the holiday weekend, Southwest Airlines witnessed a considerable number of flight cancellations and delays. On Saturday and Sunday alone, the airline canceled 426 flights and delayed 2,689 flights, according to FlightAware data. These disruptions were attributed to dense fog in Chicago that prevented planes from landing. Southwest Airlines indicated that additional cancellations may be necessary on Monday, but they expected a full recovery by Tuesday.


Causes of the cancellations and delays

The primary cause of the recent cancellations and delays experienced by Southwest Airlines was the dense fog in Chicago over the weekend. Foggy conditions can significantly impact air travel as they restrict visibility and pose safety risks. When visibility is compromised, airlines must prioritize passenger safety and may need to delay or cancel flights until conditions improve. While weather-related disruptions are beyond an airline’s control, they can still have a substantial impact on an airline’s operations and passenger experience.

Expected recovery timeline

Southwest Airlines anticipated a full recovery from the disruptions by Tuesday. The airline aimed to resolve the remaining delays and get flights back on schedule as soon as possible. However, it is essential to recognize that recovery timelines can vary depending on the extent of the disruptions and the availability of resources. Southwest Airlines and other airlines affected by the weather-related challenges over the weekend would work diligently to minimize the impact on passengers and restore normal operations.


Southwest Airlines cancels hundreds, delays thousands of holiday weekend flights

Holiday travel statistics

AAA predictions for travel during the holiday season

According to AAA, it was predicted that 115 million people in the U.S. would travel at least 50 miles from home by air or car between Saturday and New Year’s Day. This estimate represented a 2% increase compared to the previous year’s holiday season. Despite the challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic, people were eager to travel and reunite with their loved ones during the festive period.

Transportation Security Administration data

Data from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) indicated a substantial number of travelers during the holiday season. On Thursday alone, more than 2.6 million people were screened by the TSA. While data for the entire weekend was yet to be released, it was apparent that there was a significant demand for air travel during this time.

Comparison to previous holiday seasons

Compared to the holiday season in the previous year, the weather conditions were generally more favorable for air travel, allowing airlines to maintain better on-time performance. The impact of weather events, such as snowstorms and icy road conditions, was minimized, contributing to smoother travel experiences for many passengers. However, challenges in air travel persisted, as demonstrated by the disruptions faced by Southwest Airlines and other airlines over the weekend.

Southwest Airlines cancels hundreds, delays thousands of holiday weekend flights

Weather conditions during the holiday weekend

Impacts on air travel

Weather conditions can have a significant impact on air travel, particularly during busy holiday periods. As seen in the case of Southwest Airlines, dense fog in Chicago disrupted flights and necessitated cancellations or delays. Foggy conditions restrict visibility, making it unsafe for planes to land or take off. Airlines must prioritize passenger safety and adhere to strict regulations regarding visibility minimums, resulting in flight disruptions in adverse weather conditions.

Road conditions and safety

While air travel faced challenges due to weather disruptions, road travel was also affected by unfavorable weather conditions in certain regions. Parts of the Midwest and Great Plains experienced accumulating snow and ice on Christmas Day. This led to dangerous road conditions, making it essential for travelers to exercise caution and follow relevant safety guidelines. The National Weather Service reported blizzard conditions in Nebraska and South Dakota and ice storms in parts of eastern North and South Dakota, further highlighting the impact of weather on both air and road travel.

Southwest Airlines cancels hundreds, delays thousands of holiday weekend flights

Road travel predictions

Busiest days for road travel

Transportation data provider INRIX predicted that the busiest days for road travel during the holiday season were expected to be Saturday, December 23, and Thursday, December 28. As people embarked on their holiday journeys, highways and roads experienced increased traffic volumes, potentially leading to congestion and longer travel times. Travelers were advised to plan their trips accordingly and consider alternative routes or travel times to mitigate the impact of heavy traffic.

Southwest Airlines cancels hundreds, delays thousands of holiday weekend flights


The holiday travel season brought both joys and challenges for passengers and airlines alike. While overall travel conditions were better compared to the previous year, Southwest Airlines and other airlines faced disruptions in the form of cancellations and delays. These disruptions were primarily attributed to weather conditions, such as dense fog in Chicago. However, airlines made extensive preparations to manage the surge in holiday travelers and aimed to recover from the disruptions promptly. As the holiday season continues, travelers are advised to stay updated on weather conditions, exercise caution during road travel, and remain patient in the face of potential travel disruptions.

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