Southwest Airlines experiences glitch, groundings, cancellations

A Southwest Airlines passenger plane taxis on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport.
A Southwest Airlines passenger plane taxis on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

A Southwest Airlines computer glitch that grounded 250 flights on Friday night resulted in two cancellations out of Ontario International Airport on Saturday morning, a spokeswoman said.

Spokeswoman Michelle Agnew said morning flights from Ontario to Sacramento and Phoenix were cancelled "due to not having aircraft positioned, or no available crews."

The Southwest spokeswoman said 14 flights were cancelled today, as dispatchers moved crews and planes into position to handle the airline's 3,400 scheduled flights in North America.

None of today's cancelled flights were at Los Angeles, Burbank, Orange County or San Diego, she said.

At about 8 p.m. Pacific time Friday, an internal computer system at Southwest Airlines' operations center in Texas malfunctioned, leaving company dispatchers unable to coordinate or communicate with their aircraft crews, she said.

That led to departing planes being stuck at gates, and arriving, loaded airplanes being stuck on tarmacs waiting for an open spot. Although some passengers said they were stuck on the tarmac for more than an hour, Southwest met its "Passengers Bill of Rights" obligations to get everyone off within three hours of touchdown, a spokeswoman at LAX said.

Since Southwest does not operate overnight flights, most Southwest operations on the East Coast were not affected by the computer outage, Agnew said.

Flights in the Pacific and Mountain time zones began getting cancelled after the Friday night outage, as company dispatchers switched to a manual system that is more-cumbersome than computers, Agnew said.

"Our normal tools to speak to aircraft, to clear them for departure and direct them on the fields, was disrupted," she said. "This caused delays as we used a backup manual system that is significantly more cumbersome."

Southwest passengers had unrelated trouble earlier Friday at LAX when an air conditioning unit malfunctioned in Terminal 1 on the first day of summer.

Airport spokeswoman Nancy Castles says the air conditioning was broken from about 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Friday, and that the failure was caused by a construction problem relating to a utility upgrade.

Large fans were placed around the airport but the terminal was packed with passengers as Friday marked the first day of peak travel season for LAX, according to Castles. 

Terminal 1 serves Southwest Airlines and U.S. Airways passengers.