Southwest Airlines canceled at least 1,800 domestic flights and delayed another 1,500 flights over the weekend, leaving thousands of U.S. travelers stranded and scrambling to find new transportation.
The widespread operational staffing shortage, which resulted in the termination of nearly 28 percent of the airline’s scheduled flights for the day, come less than a week after the company forced the COVID-19 vaccine on employees. Speculations swirled on social media that the cancellations were due to “sickouts” by employees protesting the shot mandate.
Southwest, however, told The Federalist that attributing the cancellations to the mandate is “unfounded rumor and speculation” and claimed the cancellations were due to “weather challenges” in Florida and “unexpected air traffic control issues in the same region.”
“With fewer frequencies between cities in our current schedule, recovering during operational challenges is more difficult and prolonged,” the airline said in a statement.
ATC issues and disruptive weather have resulted in a high volume of cancellations throughout the weekend while we work to recover our operation. We appreciate your patience as we accommodate affected Customers, and Customer Service wait times are longer than usual. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/o1scQJ5lLb
— Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) October 9, 2021
The Federal Aviation Agency, however, reported that “no FAA air traffic staffing shortages have been reported since Friday.”
No FAA air traffic staffing shortages have been reported since Friday.
Flight delays & cancellations occurred for a few hours Friday PM due to widespread severe weather, military training, & limited staffing in one area of the Jacksonville en route center.
— The FAA ✈️ (@FAANews) October 10, 2021
The Southwest Pilots Association also vehemently denied the massive shutdowns were due to the company’s vaccine coercion.
“I can say with certainty that there are no work slowdowns or sickouts either related to the recent mandatory vaccine mandate or otherwise,” SWAPA President Casey Murray said in a statement. “Under the RLA, our Union is forbidden from taking job action to resolve labor disputes under these circumstances. SWAPA has not authorized, and will not condone, any job action.”
In his statement, Murray also eviscerated the airline company for becoming an operation that is “brittle and subject to massive failures under the slightest pressure.”
“Our Pilots are tired and frustrated because our operation is running on empty due to a lack of support from the Company. SWAPA has grave concerns about the direction Southwest Airlines has taken in putting profits ahead of people. Enough is enough. We need leadership, not apologies. We need accountability for those responsible for this months-long debacle. And we need concrete actions taken now to protect our airline, our employees, and our customers,” he wrote.
His harsh words for Southwest come just a few days after SWAPA announced its opposition to the airline welcoming the Biden administration’s lawless demand that private companies with 100 or more employees force them all into COVID shots. The union requested a temporary block on the company’s vaccine mandate on Friday and said the airline’s intentions to terminate people who don’t comply could violate the Railway Labor Act.
“SWAPA is not anti-vaccination, but we do believe that, under all circumstances, it is our role to represent the health and safety of our Pilots and bring their concerns to the Company,” the union said in a statement.
In addition to air travel problems through Southwest, U.S. travelers who are customers of American Airlines and Spirit suffered cancellations and delays, but not on the same scale.
Amtrak also reported cancellations due to “unforeseen crew issues” on Sunday.
Trains 465 and 416 departing on 10/10 are canceled due to unforeseen crew issues. Alternate transportation will be provided.
— Amtrak Northeast (@AmtrakNECAlerts) October 10, 2021