The Shameful Open Secret Behind Southwest’s Failure? Software Shortcomings
Long-time Slashdot reader theodp writes that the piece “takes a crack at explaining ‘technical debt’ to the masses.” Tufekci writes:
Computers become increasingly capable and powerful by the year and new hardware is often the most visible cue for technological progress. However, even with the shiniest hardware, the software that plays a critical role inside many systems is too often antiquated, and in some cases decades old. This failing appears to be a key factor in why Southwest Airlines couldn’t return to business as usual the way other airlines did after last week’s major winter storm. More than 15,000 of its flights were canceled starting on Dec. 22, including more than 2,300 canceled this past Thursday — almost a week after the storm had passed.
It’s been an open secret within Southwest for some time, and a shameful one, that the company desperately needed to modernize its scheduling systems. Software shortcomings had contributed to previous, smaller-scale meltdowns, and Southwest unions had repeatedly warned about it. Without more government regulation and oversight, and greater accountability, we may see more fiascos like this one, which most likely stranded hundreds of thousands of Southwest passengers — perhaps more than a million — over Christmas week.
And not just for a single company, as the problem is widespread across many industries.
“The reason we made it through Y2K intact is that we didn’t ignore the problem,” the piece argues. But in comparison, it points out, Southwest had already experienced another cancellation crisis in October of 2021 (while the president of the pilots’ union “pointed out that the antiquated crew-scheduling technology was leading to cascading disruptions.”) “In March, in its open letter to the company, the union even placed updating the creaking scheduling technology above its demands for increased pay.”
Speaking about this week’s outage, a Southwest spokesman concedes that “We had available crews and aircraft, but our technology struggled to align our resources due to the magnitude and scale of the disruptions.”
But Tufekci concludes that “Ultimately, the problem is that we haven’t built a regulatory environment where companies have incentives to address technical debt, rather than passing the burden on to customers, employees or the next management…. For airlines, it might mean holding them responsible for the problems their miserly approach causes to the flying public.”
Read more of this story at Slashdot.