Over the past few days, I’ve read several articles about Southwest Airlines turning to Amazon Web Services (AWS) to prevent another meltdown like their colossal failure we saw at the end of 2022.
While the finger-pointing is still happening about why the meltdown occurred, and the CEO is saying the whole thing was to blame on the cold weather at a few key airports (he’s kidding, right?), there is no doubt the airline is still in damage control mode. I don’t think Southwest has to do much more than offer low fares to get passengers onto its flights, but if they want to get back to where they were, it’s going to mean convincing people they’re not going to get stranded for weeks if a snowstorm hits a portion of the US.
I’m in the camp that the weather put Southwest’s IT systems under such stress that they snapped, leaving the airline unable to match available crews with planes on the ground. So while they could have flown between two cities with aircraft and crew, the computers couldn’t match up the two.
Ancient IT systems are no secret within the industry and it’s not just a Southwest problem. But the airline’s direct routing model, crew staffing, and a crisis of this magnitude have shown the flaws in Southwest’s flight scheduling systems.
To fix these problems, Southwest is moving its applications to Amazon Web Services (AWS). From the Dallas Morning News:
Amazon Web Services will become Southwest’s “preferred cloud provider,” the e-commerce giant said on Wednesday, calling the move a “large-scale migration” of the airline’s digital infrastructure to the cloud. Southwest will use AWS to power elements of its website and mobile app, store data, and run internal analytics.
Here’s the problem. Southwest has partnered with AWS since 2020. In this now cringeworthy video from AWS re:Invent 2020, Lauren Woods, the Managing Director of Technology Platforms for Southwest, describes how AWS helps Southwest become more efficient, technically advanced, and able to take on new opportunities.
As weather, maintenance, crews, and other flights impact departure and arrival times, Southwest and its customers now have access to the most accurate information faster than ever before.
It doesn’t get better when she describes how Southwest used AWS to revamp the crew scheduling systems.
I guess the problem was that Southwest didn’t move more of its systems to the Amazon Cloud before the meltdown, as it sounds like several of the older systems were still in place. Maybe it was that moving the systems would have cost too much money. It’s funny how a $1 Billion hit on the balance sheet can make you reevaluate things.
Can this work for Southwest? Maybe.
Delta Air Lines had also used AWS as its cloud provider since 2022 and things seem to be going OK for them.
While I’m glad Southwest is addressing its IT issues, simply announcing a move to AWS isn’t going to fix its problems. And since most people don’t know what AWS is and how it’s more important to Amazon’s bottom line than delivering stuff to your house, I doubt the PR push will move the needle.
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Moving applications into any cloud without a re-architecture and/or re-write is a total wast of money and time… Unless they were designed as cloud native… which we know they are NOT…. as a Software Engineering Manager who manages applications in AWS, Azure, GPC and multiple datacenters…
It’s Airline Marketing at its best… or worst?