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Internal Southwest Airlines messaging offers in-depth look at what's causing mass flight cancellations

The internal message from Southwest CEO Bob Jordan and COO Andrew Watterson details what led to the airline's issues this week and how they're working to solve them.

DALLAS — Amid mass flight cancellations, an announcement that their airline would only be operating at "roughly one third" of its capacity for "the next several days" and a promise from the federal government that it would closely "examine" what led to this fiasco, Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan and COO Andrew Watterson issued an internal message to their employees on Monday night.

WFAA has obtained a transcribed copy of their companywide message.

Read in full, Jordan and Watterson's messaging provides the most detailed account into what caused the issues Southwest is facing this week. It also sheds light into the procedures the airline is putting into place to address those issues.

This communication stands in stark contrast to the opaque, public-facing updates the company has been sharing the last few days -- ironic for a business whose "Transfarency" slogan is a play on the word "transparency."

Update: Late Tuesday afternoon, Jordan released a public video comment on the airline's troubles. You can watch it the top of this article, and read more context on it here.

You can also read the joint internal message from Jordan (who took over the top role at Southwest from the airline's longtime CEO Gary Kelly following his retirement in February) and Watterson in its entirety below.

(All capitalization, grammar and style choices are Southwest's; the below transcription is presented verbatim as it was appeared on internal SWA documents.)

Southwest CEO Bob Jordan and COO Andrew Watterson's internal statement to SWA employees:

Jordan: "Hey there, Southwest Airlines. Bob Jordan here. I know I sent you an update last night and Andrew here has updated you all several times. But I wanted to give you more info on where we are today. First, I know it's very tough out there. We've had another very tough day in the operation. And there are several more days ahead of us in all likelihood.

"Andrew will talk more about how we got here and the causes. But I wanted to talk to you about number one: an acknowledgment that it is very difficult. I know that you all are working very hard. The circumstances are very difficult. The impact on our Customers is very difficult. I know some of the thing that you're seeing don't many any sense--like you've got a missing Crew Member and there's somebody over here that could potentially fly the aircraft or take that spot and long hold time into Crew Scheduling. We'll go through why that is, but just know that we know all those things and it's part of working through the solution. You've got to stay, obviously, legal with our Crews.

"We've got to stay safe. We've got to work through solutions. Here's what we're doing next--we're going to dramatically decrease the schedule the next several days. There will be a bridge from today to tomorrow to get that, but that'll give us the best shot at getting the network reset, our Crews reset--just taking some pressure off the system. Obviously, that'll have even more impact on our Customers. So that'll be going out tonight. But we've got to get out of this. We've got to get to the point where we are reliable and we get our Customers, our Crews, our aircraft, everything back on track.

"We've talked a little bit over the last year about the need to modernize the operation and invest. This is why. We can't be our size and scope and have a lack of tools. So, you'll be hearing even more about how we invest to fix the issues that confront us as an airline. But, Andrew, why don't you talk for just a couple minutes about how did we get here, why is this different for us Versus somebody else?"

Watterson: "Yes, so we started off with the Winter Storm Elliott that really put pressure on our Ground Operations. The extreme cold weather made us limit the amount of time our Ground Operations staff were exposed. We started to see equipment freeze, jet bridges freeze, fuel congeal, and as a result, we had to modify our network, sometimes shutting down Crew bases operations for a while.

"And, so we got through that part of it. I think similar to other airlines. The problem was in all those decisions, you end up impacting the Crew network. And the Crew network is a delicate thing because it's governed by some strict regulations, and we have a complex network with Crews traveling throughout it. And, so when we finished with the winter storm, for the most part, then we found ourselves with a crew at a place where we're not able to re-Crew that network. So, we had People that were legal. We had aircraft that were available, but the process of matching those Crew Members with the aircraft could not be handled by our technology. In our desired state, we have a solver that would be able to do that very quickly and accurately. Our system today cannot do that.

"As a result, we asked out Crew Schedulers to do this manually, and it's extraordinarily difficult. They must verify that you are legal. They can't just have the next person up, so to speak. They have to look through everyone's board and reassign. So that is a tedious, long process. And every day we try to repair the Crew network. They would make great progress, and then some other disruption would happen, and it would unravel their work. So we spent multiple days where we kind of got close to finishing the problem, and then it had to be reset. And so now is out latest plan because the last one last night did not work. We had a bad, awful day today.

"We will now rotate into multiple days of a lower level of activity, which means we'll have more than ample Crew resources to handle that amount of activity. it will be difficult for Crew Scheduling to reassign it for everybody, but when they get through that transition to reassign it, they will have multiple days to get People in the spot for resumption of our original lines and such. And so that's where we need to get back to--what's the most reliable is getting back to what you originally did. And so, these multiple days are a way to transition into that."

Jordan: "All right, Andrew. Hey, thank you. It's complex, as you can tell. I just want to leave you with a couple of things. No. 1: nothing trumps Safety. You've got to be safe and we are safe and just know that we won't do anything to violate that. No. 2: know that it's complex. But we've got all hands-on deck.

"You've got armies of folks working on the solutions. The detailed tasks as Andrew discussed. So, it's all hands-on deck to work our way out of this. Next, it's going to take a more dramatic actions, which is this reduction of the schedule which will have impacts on our Customers especially. So, you'll see that, but we will get out of this.

"Southwest is a great Company. There's no doubt that this is someplace we've not been before. This is a very tough place to be, but we will get out of it, and we will focus on our tools, our processes, winning out Customers back, winning you back and making sure we are reliable and stable.

"At last, just that even in a difficult time, I hope you know that we appreciate you. We love you all. I know it's hard and hard to feel, but I'm telling you, we love you. We care about you and appreciate you more than we can tell you. And we'll get through it. Thank you all. And I'll be back to update you all more in the next few days."

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