How Have Southwest Airlines’ Flight Cancellations Affected Airport Foot Traffic?

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Southwest Airlines, the largest domestic airline in the country, canceled thousands of flights nationwide during this time, causing much of the disruption. Southwest’s technical issues and flight cancellations strongly affected both the company’s revenue and the travel plans of many Americans. To gain a greater understanding of the effects these issues have had, Unacast analyzed consumer foot traffic to airports across the nation during December 2022.

Airport Foot Traffic Analysis

We took an in-depth look at airport foot traffic throughout December 2022 compared to December 2021. We separated foot traffic at airports that are Southwest hubs from other airports. In December 2022, foot traffic to Southwest hubs and other airports decreased mid-month, compared to 2021, but ultimately increased near the end of 2022. All airlines followed a similar pattern in foot traffic, with Southwest airport hubs showing more dramatic ups and downs throughout December 2022.

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For Q3 2022, Southwest reported a strong quarter for company revenue, likely due to the high demand for air travel during the summer last year. However, despite these promising results, the tides turned for Southwest. In fact, airports that are Southwest hubs saw foot traffic decline more (-14%) than at other airports (-7%), likely due to the mass flight cancellations made by Southwest in December 2022.

Furthermore, there was a negative trend in foot traffic to airports that are Southwest hubs in various cities across the country in December 2022. Southwest’s hubs all saw overall decreases in year-over-year foot traffic at the end of last year. Houston experienced the most dramatic decrease of -33% year-over-year, while Chicago and Nashville experienced more minor decreases of -4% year-over-year.

December’s mass flight cancellations are continuing to affect Southwest months later, as the company has failed to meet its deadline for issuing reimbursements to affected customers. Many of those affected have yet to receive their lost baggage as well. As a result of the unpredictable end to 2022, Southwest experienced a 45% decrease in year-over-year revenue.

Overall Airport Foot Traffic

Most U.S. cities with major airports experienced a decrease in year-over-year foot traffic during December of last year. However, Miami saw the greatest increase, ending December 2022 with a 136% increase in foot traffic year-over-year. This is likely due to the number of Americans flocking to the warmer climate in Florida. Minneapolis saw the second greatest increase, ending December 2022 with a 129% rise in foot traffic year-over-year. In contrast to Miami, this was likely due to travelers looking to get away from the cold for the holidays.

According to December’s foot traffic numbers, it seems airline travel did not recover as well as  some experts previously predicted. So how is December’s air travel chaos affecting Southwest and other airlines at the start of 2023?

Southwest Airlines & Competitors

Southwest hasn’t fulfilled its refund obligations, many customers remain disgruntled, and shareholders are taking legal action against the company. Due to the company’s damaged reputation, Southwest has lost about $350 million in ticket sales since the start of 2023. Though Southwest’s reputation and foot traffic is suffering, we think it may begin to level out. Southwest continues improving upon its outdated technology and offering bonus travel points to affected customers for later travel. This could attract future travelers in 2023.

On the other hand, U.S. airlines are looking to grow, so competition may be fierce as 2023 progresses.

For example, Frontier Airlines recently launched an all-you-can-fly Summer Pass, allowing pass holders to take an unlimited amount of flights for a one-time, affordable price this summer. As more airlines look for creative ways to compete with each other, and legislation protecting fliers evolves, airport foot traffic may begin to slowly increase throughout 2023.

As Southwest and other major airlines take note of last year’s travel challenges and strive to make improvements, Unacast will continue analyzing foot traffic to better understand how consumers are reacting to these changes and how this impacts major airlines.


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