Nobody liked the government shutdown. 

The federal workers who didn't know if they'd paid didn't like it; the contractors who will never see their pay were even more upset. 

Americans whose tax refunds were delayed were upset, as were less-fortunate people who were depending on federal benefits.

But I have to admit I'm surprised to learn about one specific organization that says the federal shutdown pretty much clobbered it: Southwest Airlines.

So much so, in fact, that the airline says it didn't even understand the impact until now. 

And, it turns out that while you'd think something like this would affect all airlines more or less equally, the numbers show that Southwest was hit much, much harder than Delta and United.

First, the numbers. 

Southwest first reported that it thought it had lost between $10 and $15 million due to the shutdown, in a report that came just before its end in the waning days of last month. 

But, a few days ago, Southwest filed a report wit the Securities and Exchange Commission that said the real number was much higher: maybe $60 million.

Delta previously had reported it thought it took about a $25 million hit. Neither United nor American Airlines has actually reported the impact yet, although United's president told analysts last month it didn't expect the shutdown to have an outsized effect.

So, what's the difference between Southwest and the other three biggest U.S. airlines that made Southwest so much more susceptible to being hurt by the shutdown?

It's largely a question of schedules, actually. Southwest is mostly a domestic airline, so flight delays and cancelations stemming from TSA workers and air traffic controllers who slowly stopped showing up to work had a greater impact.

American, Delta and United have much larger overseas businesses. That means they have more of a buffer to absorb problems when TSA workers in the United States take hardship leave or call in sick during a shutdown, rather than showing up to work each day without being paid for more than a month.

The good news of course, is that Congress passed a spending bill and President Trump signed it. So, the shutdown is over, and we'll fight the issue that held everything up (whether to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico) in the courts, rather than in places like our nation's airports.

At least, that's the case for now -- until the next time the federal appropriations law runs out.
 

Published on: Feb 23, 2019
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