How does an airline run out of deicing fluid in the middle of February in Chicago?
That was a question that thousands of people were asking this weekend when Southwest Airlines had to cancel hundreds of flights because it said it ran short of glycol, the fluid necessary to make sure that ice doesn’t build up on the aircraft to make for a safe take-off.
Certainly, no one could argue with the necessity of this safety measure, but it had everyone scrambling for new flights and everyone wondering how this could happen when these flights are scheduled months in advance and weather forecasts are now relatively accurate days in advance. Southwest said it was difficult to anticipate the snowy conditions in Chicago, which is understandable if you live in the dark ages and don’t look at any weather websites or their tv channels, but Sunday wasn’t the first time that this had happened to Southwest at Midway.
A few days after Christmas, 90 Southwest Airlines Midway flights were canceled due to delays caused by their inability to de-ice planes, according to a statement from the airline at that time. The airline blamed freezing conditions at Midway Airport for slowing down de-ice crews around the holidays.
Apologies certainly were profuse over this past weekend from the Dallas-based airline, but representatives appeared to be unclear about specific compensation for passengers for failing to meet its commitment. In the U.S., in the event of a delay, a few airlines may say that they will try to transfer you to another carrier, but the decision is theirs. Other airlines only offer a seat on their own next-available flight, which in the case of Southwest this past weekend was very uncertain.
How can a major airline just say sorry and go on with business as usual? In Europe, if your flight has been delayed by at least three hours or cancelled then you have the right to compensation under European law. Under EU Flight Compensation Regulation 261/2004, the amounts available to stranded passengers start around €250 ($307 USD) for flights of less than 1,500 kilometers (about 930 miles) that are delayed by at least three hours and go up to €600 (about $737 USD) for flights of more than 3,500 kilometers (about 2,200 miles) between an EU and non-EU airport, delayed by at least four hours.
And it’s certainly questionable about Southwest representatives trying to have this major incident fall under the category of “weather-related” delays. Passengers told the media that getting a hold of the airlines to try to change plans was nearly impossible. Some stranded passengers were forced to sleep on the floor of Midway Airport.
Apparently, Southwest received a delivery of the de-icing fluid Monday morning and reported that things were expected to get back to normal. But it still had many stranded passengers wondering why other airlines at Chicago’s busy airports were still flying without de-icing fluid quantity issues, and why Congress hasn’t become more proactive in regulating this type of inexcusable behavior.
Perhaps it will when someone from Congress is on one of those stranded planes.