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Southwest Airlines Declares State of Operational Emergency at Denver Airport

Southwest Airlines Declares State of Operational Emergency at Denver Airport


The recent winter storm has hit Southwest Airlines hard at Denver International Airport (DEN). Beginning at 1:45 pm Mountain Time on December 21, 2022, and extending until further notice, the Vice President of Ground Operations, Chris Johnson, declared a State of Operational Emergency. 


Photo: AeroXplorer | Andrew Salisbury


The announcement comes as the airline is facing an unprecedented staff shortage due to the extreme cold. Additional problems plaguing the airline include a lack of names in the overtime book, an exhausted call book, and a lack of airport operation volunteers. In the press release, Johnson notes that the airline has received "an unusually high number of absences",  whether it be through sick leave or Reported Personal Absence (RPA).




Through this Operational State of Emergency, Southwest is implementing four key strict guidelines to curb the absences, as outlined in the press release:


  • The employees alleging illness are asked to provide a doctor's note on the first day they return to work that shows proof of visit with a date. Should an employee not provide a doctor's note, they will be terminated under the rule of abuse of sick leave.
  • Additional requests for an RPA will be denied. Operation agents who do not comply will be terminated.
  • Mandatory overtime will be implemented, regardless of the status of the employee. If an employee refuses to work overtime, they will be terminated.
  • Shift trades that are turned in less than 12 hours before the start of the first intended trade will be denied.


Photo: AeroXplorer | Edwin Sims


During this State of Operational emergency, problems for Southwest have worsened. Approximately 52% of flights on December 23 were delayed, with many more to the airline's station in Chicago-Midway being canceled. On December 22, a Southwest flight from Tampa to Denver was forced to return to its origin due to a lack of ground staff in Denver.




Inherently, these guidelines are ridiculously strict, and the airline knows that. Obviously, there is no room for compromise here that would allow both the workers to remain comfortable in this weather while ensuring operational success for the airline. Southwest is well-known for placing a high degree of emphasis on customer experience and happiness, and these guidelines appear to be prioritizing customer satisfaction over that of the employee.


It has been rumored that since the Emergency was declared, 150 ramp staffers have walked off the job, although the airline has denied this.

Davis Turner
Planespotter and aviation journalist from the San Francisco Bay Area. Davis has previously worked on business plan research with StartupBoeing and historical analysis with Ricondo and Associates. Davis will be a freshman in college this fall, based in Chicago.

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