'We messed up': Southwest leadership testifies on Capitol Hill promising to do better

Who could forget the masses of stranded passengers and mountains of baggage at Midway Airport over the holidays? 

Southwest Airlines has been in hot water since then and on Thursday, its leadership testified on Capitol Hill promising to do better and specifically answering to the need for more robust plane deicing procedures at Midway.

"Why did this happen? Let me be clear. We messed up," Southwest COO Andrew Watterson told the Senate Commerce Committee.  "The root cause we believe of the disruption was our capacity to handle winter operations and that needs substantial improvement this year, and so that's what we will endeavor to fix this year, but over a multi-year period we will be going through every part of our operation."

In late December, Southwest canceled more than 16,000 flights during challenging weather, stranding 2 million passengers who were left scrambling to find a way home.

 During the hearing, passengers' advocates recounted some of their horror stories. 


"Diane Martinez needed her epilepsy medicine and had to drive 10 hours from Charleston to Nashville because Southwest had no available flights for days," said Flyers' Rights President Paul Hudson. "Kate D. missed her own wedding despite booking a flight scheduled to land more than two days before her wedding."

At the hearing, the airline cited the need to upgrade plane deicing capabilities, identify and address potential staffing shortages earlier, and have much better "backup crew" procedures in place.  

"We are intensely focused on reducing the risk of repeating the operational disruption we had in December and repairing the trust," said Watterson.

Another factor that he admitted played a big role in this mess was its crew-scheduling system. 

He said that has since been upgraded, has worked successfully in a test environment, and is set to go live for real on Friday.