Thursday, December 29, 2022

The Great Southwest Airlines Meltdown of Christmas 2022

My brother and his wife made what they thought was going to be a short trip to town for Christmas. However, when they went to Hobby Airport to try to return to Denver last Monday, they found themselves to be just two of thousands of victims of the Great Southwest Airlines Meltdown of 2022:

A massive storm has blanketed much of the U.S. with snow, slowing air travel during a peak season and causing tens of thousands of flight cancellations. The holiday meltdown at Southwest Airlines, however, has far eclipsed its competitors.

By Wednesday afternoon, the company had canceled more than 2,500 flights planned for the day, which amounted to 62% of the day's total, according to the flight tracking website FlightAware.

By contrast, as of Wednesday afternoon, United Airlines had canceled just 11 flights scheduled for the day; while American Airlines had canceled 23, FlightAware said. Each figure accounted for less than 1% of the respective company's total flights.

In an interview with ABC News' Byron Pitts, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg on Tuesday described the wave of flight cancellations at Southwest Airlines as a "shocking and unacceptable level of disruption." Meanwhile Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said the problems at Southwest Airlines "go beyond weather."

While the snowstorm grounded flights in and out of key airports in Southwest's network, the historic scale of cancellations stems from the company's uniquely complex flight coordination model and its antiquated internal scheduling systems, according to flight experts, Southwest Airlines officials and union leaders.

Southwest's meltdown was the result of multiple factors, including bad weather, high holiday travel volumes, the carrier's unique point-to-point route network (as opposed to the hub-and-spoke system of most other carriers) and, most notably, an antiquated dispatching system:

In addition to its complicated model for assigning flights, Southwest Airlines also suffers from an antiquated internal system used for managing and staffing those trips, company officials, union leaders and experts said.

"They've had IT-related issues in terms of tracking their crews and scheduling," said [industry observer Ross] Feinstein, formerly of American Airlines. "Issues with what they use to monitor aircraft locations, crew, flight attendants, all of the above."

Casey Murray, the president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said in a statement on Tuesday that the technology used internally to oversee staffing and scheduling has faced difficulties stretching back at least a decade.

"We all know that the company has had its head buried in the sand when it comes to its operational processes and IT," Murray said. "We aren't undermanned. We're undermanaged."

A vice president of the same union went into further detail regarding Southwest's stunningly inadequate scheduling platform:

Captain Mike Santoro, vice president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA), told Insider on Tuesday that while the winter storm was a "catalyst" for the disruptions, the company's "outdated" scheduling software created the snowball.

He explained the system tracks the company's pilots and flight attendants' whereabouts, but it got so overloaded that it could not keep up.

"When we get out of position, it's a tough task for our schedulers to put it back together, and right now they're having to do it by hand," he explained. "The problem is the software just doesn't keep track of us."

For example, he explained one flight had two pilots and three flight attendants assigned to a flight but needed one more flight attendant for the plane to legally fly.

There were several deadheading flight attendants onboard, meaning they were being flown to another city for an assignment but were "ready, willing, and able to work" that flight as well.

But, because the system didn't know they were on that aircraft and the flight attendants couldn't get in contact with crew scheduling, the company canceled the flight when it didn't need to. 

"Even though we had a crew available, [scheduling] had no idea those flight attendants were in the back of the airplane."

It turns out that even though they were warned about the need to upgrade critical corporate infrastructure, Southwest's C-suite has been more focused in making its investors rich through dividends and stock buybacks. The resulting situation, which Southwest staff predicted in internal memos, has created catastrophic conditions for tens of thousands of travelers, who have scrambled to complete their trip by any means available. Many travelers don't even know where their luggage is. Hotels around Hobby Airport, which is dominated by Southwest, bore the effects of the chaos:

Many passengers found new routes with different airlines through George Bush Intercontinental airport, others caught buses, booked rental cars or had family members drive long distance to pick them up, said Britney Moreno, front desk manager at Courtyard by Marriott Houston Hobby Airport, which has seen a wave of Southwest passengers. 

“I’ve had people drive to Waco or New Mexico; they’re getting rental cars and leaving but even then, there’s a wait time because there aren’t many rental places with availability,” Moreno said.

The 150-room Courtyard hotel hit about 50 percent occupancy on Monday night, when they hotel had been planning for much lower occupancy, she said.

“We were actually hoping it would be very slow since it was a holiday, but the whole weather situation happened and from there it got busy,” Moreno said. By late Tuesday afternoon, much of the initial rush was dissipating as customers rearranged their plans, she added.

Other hotels were planning for a slow weekend too. Miya Ball, front officer manager at Hilton Garden Inn Houston Hobby Airport, said the 136-room hotel had expected to achieve about 30 percent occupancy over the weekend. Instead, its occupancy climbed to 90 percent Monday night as disheveled passengers and flight attendants filled the hotel.

“It’s bringing in that extra revenue we weren’t expecting, but we’ve had a lot of guests coming in who are very frustrated,” Ball said. “It’s been very chaotic; however we have the availably to help.”

Southwest even resorted to putting passengers on buses to reach their final destinations, thus defeating the purpose of air travel entirely:

This is all happening as ABC13 saw Southwest passengers arriving to Hobby not by plane, but by bus. Overnight, one bus drove 24 hours from La Guardia Airport in New York and arrived at Hobby Airport.

"It was so hard and in spite of it, Southwest looked out for us to get a bus to come here," one of the passengers onboard the bus said. 

Another bus carrying 52 passengers drove 16 hours from Denver and arrived at about 5 a.m. Wednesday.

"We took bathroom breaks, got food, did what we could to make them comfortable," Eric Miller, who drove 21 hours from Denver, said.

My brother and his wife were relatively lucky; they simply had to return to my parents' house to spend an extra couple of days there, and were able to fly back to Denver today via United Airlines out of Bush Intercontinental. The same can't be said for so many other people who are still trying to find a way to get home.

Southwest founder Herb Kelleher must be spinning in his grave right now. 

Simple Flying, One Mile at a Time, and the Houston Press have more.

Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl: Houston 23, Louisiana-Lafayette 16

The Cougars ended their football season with a 7-5 record, as I predicted last month. What I got wrong was the way they arrived at that record; instead of losing to a 7-3 East Carolina team on the road, the Coogs played their best football of the year and dismantled the Pirates, 42-3. And instead of defeating a 4-7 Tulsa team at home, they opened up a massive can of quit on Senior Day and got embarrassed, 37-30.

The team's reward for going 7-5 was a trip to Shreveport to face the 6-6 Ragin' Cajuns in a frigid Independence Stadium. The game did not start out well for Houston, as ULL led 16-6 at the half. But the Cougars rallied in the second half to pull off the win and bring their all-time bowl record to 13-16-1.

The Good: QB Clayton Tune and WR Tank Dell could have opted out of this game to prepare for the NFL draft. They chose, instead, to play their final game of their UH careers with their teammates. Tune passed for 224 yards (including a 41-yard pass to KeSean Carter on 1st and 30!), rushed for 55 more, threw three touchdowns and had no interceptions. Two of those TD passes were to Dell, including the go-ahead score with 20 seconds remaining. It was a fitting end to both of their tenures in UH jerseys.  

The defense struggled in the first half but stepped up in the second half, keeping the Cajuns from scoring as well as recovering three turnovers.

The Bad: The Cougars started out slow, allowing the Cajuns to score on their first drive of the game and jump out to a 16-6 lead at halftime. The Cougars didn't even find the endzone until 3 minutes left in the second quarter, and kicker Kyle Ramsey missed the extra point. The Coogs also allowed the Cajuns to go three-of-three on fourth down attempts and were flagged 7 times for 61 yards.

What It Means: The Cougars began the 2022 football season with a a top 25 ranking and realistic expectations for a conference championship and New Year's Six bowl. They end it with a bowl win over a .500 Sun Belt team after a 7-5 regular season. To say that the season was a disappointment would be an understatement. Things don't get easier from here, either, as the Cougars now join the Big 12 conference for the 2023 season. Could this be their last bowl appearance for awhile?

The Cougars are now 7-3 all-time against the Ragin' Cajuns, going all the way back to 1946 when the UH program played its very first game against what was then known as Southwestern Louisiana Institute. 

The Cougars will open the 2023 season against the UTSA Roadrunners at TDECU Stadium on Saturday, September 2, 2023.

Andy Yanez has more.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Pope Sixtus V

I have a lot of things I'd like to write about from our whirlwind Thanksgiving trip to Italy a few weeks ago, and hopefully I will be getting around to doing so over the next couple of months.

In the meantime, here's one of the first items of interest I came across in Rome: a Pope who was also an urban planner.

Within the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome is the tomb of Pope Sixtus V. He is famous (or perhaps infamous) in the urban planning profession for his ”Plan for Rome,” which consisted of leveling entire neighborhoods within the city in the late 1500s in order to build wide, straight boulevards between the city’s major churches. Although these boulevards made travel through the ancient city easier, he was resented by the large number of households and businesses he displaced. 

His Baroque “urban renewal” scheme would be copied by others, notably by Haussmann in his “Renovation of Paris” in the 19th century... and arguably by American highway engineers of the mid-20th century.

North Texas makes a coaching change

The Mean Green have a new football coach:

North Texas has named Washington State offensive coordinator Eric Morris as the Mean Green's new head coach, the school announced Tuesday afternoon.

Morris has deep roots in the state, having been a star player for Mike Leach at Texas Tech, a successful head coach at the FCS' Incarnate Word in San Antonio and a proven developer of both quarterbacks and prolific offenses.

Morris replaces Seth Littrell, who was fired on Dec. 4 after going 44-44 over seven years at the school. North Texas is headed to its debut season in the American Athletic Conference next year.

Littrell's .500 record actually makes him one of the more statistically successful UNT head coaches in the program's recent history. But Littrell was also 0-5 in bowl games, 0-2 in conference championship games, and - of particular importance to Mean Green faithful - 1-6 against Metroplex rival SMU. 

Following their loss to UTSA in the Conference USA championship game a couple of weeks ago, and with the change in conferences looming, the UNT administration decided that the time for a change had come. 

"I am incredibly honored to be the head football coach at North Texas," Morris said in a statement. "I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity given to me by (new UNT AD) Jared Mosley and President Smatresk to lead UNT Football into a new era in The American. As a native Texan, I understand the pride and standard of Mean Green football and I am humbled to be able to lead this storied program. My wife, Maggie, and our boys are so excited to return home. We can't wait to meet the team and get to work."

In addition to playing for Mike Leach (I am shocked and saddened by his sudden death) at Texas Tech, Morris was also on Kevin Sumlin's staff here in Houston in 2010 and 2011. In four seasons as the head coach at Incarnate Word, he went 24-18 and led the Cardinals to a pair of FCS playoff appearances.

Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett will serve as UNT’s interim coach during their Frisco Bowl showdown against Boise State on Saturday.

Piper 2009 - 2022

A couple of weeks ago, we had to say goodbye to Corinne's rat terrier mix, Piper (aka "Barking Barker," "Pooping Pooper," "Ridicu-dog," "Cheesehound," "Sentient Tripping Hazard," etc.).

She was not the world's healthiest animal to begin with, and as she grew older Piper began to struggle with issues such as arthritis and intestinal infections. Over the past few months she really began to deteriorate; her back legs were giving out from beneath her, she was losing control of her bowels and she was beginning to show signs of dementia. While we were in Italy her condition took a turn for the worse and she could no longer walk. Once we returned, and after consulting with the vet where she was being boarded, Corinne made the difficult decision to end Piper's suffering.

Piper loved humans, but she didn't get along with other dogs. When we took her outside she would frequently snarl and growl at bulldogs and german shepherds that were three times her size. 

Piper was a member of the "Begging Bunch:" whenever we were in the kitchen, she, Black Cat and Little Girl would be in there with us looking for a handout. As mean as she was to larger dogs, she covered in fear of the cats.

Piper was truly ridiculous. She would try to fight dogs several times her size but was deathly afraid of my cats. When she was excited or wanted food, she would bounce up and down on her front paws or "tap dance" between them. But she was not graceful; in fact she was one of the clumsiest dogs I've ever met. 

She was a connoisseur of cheese as well as cat poop, but was very finicky about her normal food. If a little bit of puréed pumpkin wasn't mixed in with her normal dog food, she was rarely interested. But when she was truly hungry, she would eat so quickly that a mixture of dog food and pumpkin would become encrusted on the tip of her nose. 

Instead of going potty when we took her outside, she would spend her time leisurely sniffing every plant and blade of grass. She wasn't happy unless her doggy toys were strewn all over the apartment. And she liked to bark for no reason, as the video below indicates.

One of her favorite spots in our apartment was the balcony. When a beam of sunlight hit a spot on the balcony concrete, Piper would immediately lay out in it for a nap.

Piper liked to ensure that there was no cheese left on any of our dirty dishes before we ran the dishwasher. 

Piper was a rescue; Corinne adopted her when she was still a puppy. Piper was with Corinne when we met, and she didn't have to accept me as her "other" human. 

But she did. 

When the weather turned cold, Piper knew how to stay warm.

One of the last pictures I had of Piper on my phone was when we took her to visit my aunt Dorothy, shortly before her 100th birthday last summer.

It's been over two weeks since Piper passed, and we're still in a bit of pain. I haven't even been able to write about her passing until now. Losing a pet sucks.

With that said, Piper's bark will live forever, thanks to this video I strung together of her many random barking episodes:

Rest in peace, Ridicu-dog. We'll miss you.