2022 Southwest Airlines “meltdown”

Note: If you have questions or comments about the dataset used here, do not hesitate to contact me. You will find my email on my personal website.

The so-called “Southwest meltdown” happened this week as severe winter weather hit most of the US. Thousands of flights got canceled, making tens or even hundreds of thousands of people unhappy. Southwest operates primarily as a low-cost carrier, offering a no-frills experience with a focus on low fares. This implies a different way of operating connections. There is no central hub, and airplanes constantly fly to different locations. It turns out that this model is vulnerable when multiple airports get disrupted. There is a ton of resources and articles on this topic. I want to focus on how the “meltdown” is visible in my data.

Individual airlines

Let’s look at the number of airplanes (distinct machines) [blue line] and the number of flights (the same aircraft serves multiple connections every day) by day [green line]. Let’s look at the past four years and two months.

Thin, red vertical lines on the right-hand side plots show Thanksgiving and two Christmas Days.

Southwest Airlines

Interestingly, the 2022 “meltdown” brought the number of connections below the minimum numbers from the “2020 Covid Lockdown”.

American Airlines

United Airlines

Bonus: Lufthansa

This post is focused on the USA, but Lufthansa is the airline that I use the most (yeah, you can call it my favorite one). What is interesting here is the two significant dips in the number of connections in the second half of 2022. On these two days, Lufthansa personnel was on strike.

Major North America airlines – comparison

Let’s look at ten major airlines in North America. We are looking (below) at the number of daily connections/flights normalized to the average for the period between October 15th and December 15th. You can see that across all airlines, Thanksgiving weekend and Christmas are slower than “usual”, but after this Christmas (while all airlines returned to regular operation), Southwest plunged to around 30% of its normal operation.


Data is fun, let me know if you like it too!

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