Southwest recovers from 2 glitches, snarled flights

By Julie Johnsson
Posted March 2 at 2:11 p.m.

Southwest Airlines is recovering from two unrelated computer outages Tuesday that caused the carrier’s online reservations systems to crash and briefly snarled its flight operations.

The technical foul-ups were resolved overnight, said Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz, via e-mail. “We may have had some temporary periods of slowness as we are still working through all issues with the conversion, but for the most part it’s been running smoothly today,” he added.

The computer glitches came at a particularly inopportune time, as Southwest tries to win passengers to a drastic revamp of its popular Rapid Rewards frequent flier program unveiled Tuesday.

Southwest had drawn fire for implementing a new points-based system that ties rewards to the amount travelers spend per ticket. Executives said the airline had outgrown its previous program, which rewarded frequent fliers with a free round-trip for every 16 segments they booked in 24 months.

Rebooting Rapid Rewards 2.0 didn’t go smoothly, however, though Southwest had shut down the program for two days to load the upgraded version to

Passengers say they weren’t able to make reservations or check itineraries online for much of Tuesday due to outages involving the carrier’s reservations and its SWABIZ site, aimed at business travelers. Southwest customers continued to report problems with the site Wednesday morning on forums such as

The Texas-based carrier also delayed about 300 flights, Tuesday night, as a result of phone and computer outagesĀ  when Southwest’s telecommunications servers went down for about 90 minutes at some of its largest airport stations. The telecom crash was “completely unrelated” to the Rapid Rewards conversion, Mainz said.

At 7 p.m. central, air traffic controllers ordered a ground-stop that temporarily halted all Southwest flights destined for Midway, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Houston and Baltimore. The order was lifted at 8:30 p.m. No flights were cancelled as a result of the outage, Mainz said.

Some customers complained that Texas-based Southwest was uncharacteristically slow to acknowledge the issues and the headaches they created.

“My general impression of Southwest is that they were absent, just everywhere,” said airline blogger Brett Snyder, who also runs Cranky Concierge, a business that assists travelers.

Snyder said that he was unable to call up a customer’s reservation details online or log on to SWABIZ and faced waits of 30 minutes to an hour to reach a Southwest representative via phone. Since Southwest is known for stellar service and good communications, Snyder said he was puzzled that it didn’t mention the outages on its site and shared only limited information on Twitter and Facebook.

“When things go wrong, it’s all about how you communicate with people,” Snyder said. “In this case, they just failed.”

Mainz responded that Southwest had given customers plenty of warning of the Rapid Rewards transition and would provide more information to frequent fliers in an e-mail later this week.

“This has been a massive technology undertaking to covert over to the new program, so some delays and issues were to be expected,” Mainz said. “We did post messages throughout the day yesterday acknowledging the outages and asking customers to be patient as we worked to resolve the issues.”

Read more about the topics in this post: ,

Companies in this article

Southwest Airlines

Read more about this company »


  1. Jim Schuh March 2 at 3:13 pm

    Sounds like Punishment from God for screwing over loyal passengers!!!

  2. Darius March 2 at 5:10 pm

    Quadrupling air fares certainly is not doing much to “win” passengers. If Southwest continues this trend, it will watch its passengers either stay home, drive, or move to other airlines.

  3. bbar March 2 at 8:42 pm

    Flying stopped being any fun years ago. Southwest is one of the few domestic airlines that isn’t a nightmare to fly. If they drop the ball, I’ll guess I’ll just travel less. Who has the money these days anyway?

  4. KPO'M March 2 at 9:53 pm

    That’s a bit hyperbolic, Darius. Southwest raised round trip fares $10. Others tried to raise them $20 but then backed off. Either way, that isn’t “quadrupling” unless you knew of some $3.33 or $6.66 fares out there. Anyway, the new frequent flyer program is more complicated than the old system, but I’m reserving judgment on it until I see how well it works or doesn’t work. I sometimes make last-minute trips and like the idea of getting more “credit” for those flights than before.

  5. Washingtonian March 3 at 10:50 a.m.

    Southwest remains my favorite. Because of a company contract, my wife and I had to fly United recently from Washington-Dulles to Phoenix. We were forced to pay a total of $44 roundtrip for one checked bag each or a total of $88 (we received an on-line discount). We wanted to bring our golf clubs but that would have cost additional $88 for our trip. We wound up renting golf clubs in Phoenix and saved money.

    The Southwest computer problems are unfortunate, but highly unusual. Since first flying Southwest in 1977 (from Houston-Hobby to McAllen, TX) I found Southwest to be reliable, on-time, and with incredibly friendly crew members. I will definitely fly Southwest again.

  6. mouseanon March 3 at 4:22 pm

    Southwest is on its way out. A recent 7-day-advance-purchase nonstop flight from Chicago to California was $72 more than…United. United! When SWA can’t beat United or American on their bread and butter business they better be light years ahead on service. This massive ball-dropping on the reservations system is a peek behind the marketing curtain. Posting vague messages on Twitter is no substitute for one-to-one problem resolution with the customers you’ve caused the problems to.