Wednesday, December 21: The Company’s Preparation
SWA sent an update to all Pilots that there would be no full base closure based on the forecast, but the plan was still to reduce DEN flights by processing cancellations early Wednesday for Thursday. MDW would also have a cancellation package implemented late Wednesday for Thursday afternoon through late Friday.
Key Point #3: The initial Denver cancellation package was too optimistic
The cancellation package turned out to not be as large as anticipated when briefed the day prior. As far as we know, SkySolver was not overwhelmed at this point, since the cancellations were more than 24 hours out, which again allowed enough time to process multiple, smaller solution runs for pairing reassignments. Wednesday night, however, really did turn into a freezing whiteout in Denver (heavy snow, visibility one-quarter of a mile with winds gusting from the northwest up to 32 knots and a temperature of negative 8 degrees Fahrenheit) during the late evening, and flights were significantly delayed getting in and out. This placed a back-breaking strain on Ground Operations and also caused many legality and misconnect issues for crews.
Thursday, December 22: The Operation Convulses
As we monitored cancellations, we began to see an uptick of closer-in cancellations, indicating the network was struggling to recover from the events of the night before.
Key Point #4: The weather turned out worse
It started to become apparent that the NOC and Ground Ops leadership had overestimated the ability of DEN and now MDW and other Midwest stations’ ability to operate. Even with limited exposure to the cold, several rampers who did come to work suffered frostbite attempting to work in these conditions.
Another layer of concern is when cancellations hit the Scheduling/SkySolver system later in the evening, Scheduling is already busy with flight delays and Pilot illegalities/rest issues going into the next day.
Friday, December 23: Baker and SkySolver Eat Each Other
As mentioned previously, Dispatch’s Baker passenger and flight optimizer has minimal programming pertaining to crew, and you end up with a recovery plan that looks pretty but is doomed because it isn’t aligned with crew availability. See the orange and red upticks each evening of the 22nd and 23rd as well as throughout the 24th and 25th.