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Superintendents of Dispatch

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Ever wonder whose job it is to keep track of the 3,200 flights we operate across the country each day, in and out of the 67 airports (as of August 16) that we serve?

Well, meet the folks in Dispatch.  They are located in our Operations Coordination Center (OCC) at our Headquarters  in Dallas, Texas.  The OCC is a large entity consisting of a variety of specialized departments and groups:  Superintendents of Dispatch (SODs); Dispatchers (DPs) and Assistant Dispatchers (Asst. DPs); Customer Service Coordinators (CSC); Air Traffic Control Specialists (ATC Specialists); Dispatch Specialists; Maintenance Control (MX Control); and Flight Following (FLIFO). 

"Back in the day," we started the Dispatch Office with one Superintendent.  Today, there are 22 Dispatch Superintendents; and, if you combine all the years of service that these dedicated Employees have given our Company, you get over 400 years of Southwest Airlines experience!

Operating the published flight schedule, like putting a puzzle together, isn't always as easy as looking at the picture on the front of the box; and at any given time, there are three specific objectives for the SODs on duty.


Communication SOD

The Communication SOD is a newly created position within the SOD group.  These "guys" initiate and monitor communication between our airports, Dispatchers, and other SODs so everyone is on the same page regarding our operational gameplan and challenges. Additionally, the Communication SOD is responsible for keeping other departments and Teams in the loop about urgent situations.


Regional SOD

From a SOD's point of view, the country is divided into three different areas:  West, Central, and East.  As you might imagine, there is a SOD for each region. 


The Regional SOD's primary function is to keep the airline running seamlessly and ontime to provide an exceptional Customer Experience.  This isn't an easy task; the West, Central, and East SODs react to any potential disruption.

From a "big picture" perspective, the SODs work with Crew Scheduling to ensure the Pilots and Flight Attendants are in position to work their assigned flights.  The SODs also juggle input from CSC in order to discuss the best resolution for a disrupted flight from the Customer's point of view; they react to the decisions about mechanical issues and service checks from MX Control and adjust the flight schedule based on the available aircraft; and they consult with the ATC Specialists for guidance about route constraints (due to groundstops, Ground Delay Programs, and/or Airspace Flow Program).  After collecting the information from these groups, the Regional SODs make the best resolution for our Customers and our Company.


Next Day Router SOD

This position can be very challenging.  The Next Day Router SOD makes sure that there is an aircraft assigned to each flight for the following day, and to do that, all Maintenance requirements must be considered.  For instance, one swap made by a Regional SOD can really throw a "monkey wrench" into the Router's plan.  When this happens, the Next Day Router SOD must review the aircraft routing to comply with the required Maintenance checks.  Essentially, the Router SOD is the guru that works her/his magic to keep the fleet balanced (meaning, making sure the airplanes are where they need to be).


A Glimpse into the SOD "World"

Day-to-day, the Superintendents of Dispatch are in the business of practicing (as one of the SODs describes) "operational resolution techniques."

Take a look at a computer screen that a SOD utilizes to observe and track flights constantly.

In this SWIFT (Southwest Integrated Flight Tracking) screenshot, a row holds a "line of flight" which shows the route that a particular aircraft is operating (for instance, the top row line of flight is Amarillo – Denver – San Francisco – San Diego).  Each row is numbered for an aircraft scheduled to operate in that timeframe.  A "puck" is a segment (for example, Denver – San Francisco) of that "line of flight."  Each color represents a different operational status:  red (the flight is running late); light blue (the flight is en route); dark blue (the flight is in range); and gold (the flight is in the gate).


The SOD's Lingo

I've covered what the SODs do; talked about their roles within the group; and looked into their "world."  But, SOD’s (and the rest of the OCC) also have their own lingo. 

Here's a sample of their vernacular:

  • TERMINATOR - A “terminator” for the OCC’s purposes isn’t the Governor of California, but rather a flight ending their line at a particular station (i.e. Dallas has an average of 17 terminators a night). 
  • ORIGINATOR - An “originator” is a flight that starts their line at a certain station (i.e. MDW has 22 originators a day). 
  • FLAG STOP - A “flag stop” is a flight that makes a stop that is not part of the schedule (i.e., to drop off or pick up Customers from a cancelled flight). 
  • FUEL STOP - A “fuel stop” is a flight that makes an unscheduled stop for additional fuel (i.e., due to heavy load and hot weather).
  • OTS - “OTS” refers to an aircraft that is out of service. 
  • RTS - “RTS” refers to an aircraft that returns to service.  
  • POSITION FERRY - A “position ferry” is a flight that is operated without Customers to “position” the aircraft for fleet balance (the location of the aircraft is where it needs to be for operational reasons or Maintenance checks). 

All in a Day's Work

As you can see, these “guys” have their hands full and a lot to monitor throughout their shifts.  With communication, coordination, and collaboration with one another and the OCC Department, they succeed in keeping our flights moving efficiently every day!