The Implosion of Southwest Airlines and Financialization

Southwest Airlines canceled thousands of flights representing more than 80%of all cancellations during the Christmas 2022 snowstorm. The scale of this service implosion led to stories about old software systems for managing passenger bookings and flight schedules. Then, discussions of Southwest’s point-to-point flight strategy that differs from the other major airlines’ use of hub and spoke arrangements. Somewhere in the midst of these stories and the inevitable interviews with passengers stranded in one city while their baggage was piled up in another, mention was made of the $5.6 billion spent by Southwest for stock buybacks over the last three years as well as being the first major airline to restart paying dividends to stockholders since the pandemic 1

Meanwhile blame for the mass cancellations has been laid in large part on antiquated scheduling software. This is a classic example of what happens when companies run their business with a pure focus on achieving the highest payouts to managers and shareholders. The objective of the company ceases to be to produce a product or service for customers. Stable dedicated employees are shed in favor of temporary and or part-time workers. The infrastructure of the company is sacrificed to shedding today’s costs.