Southwest Airlines caused quite a ruckus over the weekend when the major domestic flight carrier suffered an operational meltdown that stranded some U.S. travelers.
Southwest previously told The Federalist that attributing the cancellations to protests against their new vaccine requirement for employees is “unfounded rumor and speculation.” But the reason for the disruptions appears to stretch far beyond the “weather challenges” and “unexpected air traffic control issues in the same region” that Southwest publicly cited.
While it’s hard to know exactly what sparked the airline’s operations falling apart over the weekend, causing thousands of flight cancellations and delays, a headquarters-based Southwest Airlines employee told The Federalist that staff — already overworked due to employee shortages that stretch back to government-mandated lockdowns — are getting fed up.
“I do feel like our staffing levels are stretched thin so any disruption has a kind of a compounding effect,” he said. “And that disruption could be from external factors like the air traffic controllers walking out or just our pilots taking vacation.”
These protests appear to be largely organic and absent any official input by the Southwest Pilots Association (SWAPA), which is suing the airline over its COVID jab coercion, or even medical freedom groups that are openly opposed to the airline’s vaccine coercion tactics. Even though there is no official record of an organized “sickout,” the corporate employee noted that key players such as pilots, who have publicly fought against Southwest’s jab requirement, and airport staff are frustrated and using their paid sick and vacation days to take a break.
“There’s only so much they can do, right? And so it’s easy to see how, based on their workload, that they would exercise their time off,” he said. “If they’re not planning on getting vaccinated and they feel like they’re going to be terminated, of course, they’d use their time off.”
Southwest Airlines announced last week that it would require employees to get the COVID jab or risk losing their jobs. The company claimed that they caved due to President Joe Biden’s press release demanding large businesses require the shot. But when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order on Monday barring any Lone Star State entities from mandating the vaccine, Southwest took sides with the federal government despite its lack of an enforceable rule.
“We would be expected to comply with the president’s order to remain compliant as a federal contractor,” the airline said on Tuesday in a statement.
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said on Tuesday morning that the airline is in the process of taking “several days to catch up,” but the corporate employee said he’s not sure the airline will escape future staffing problems, especially as its vaccination requirement deadline nears.
“I don’t know what the next couple of months are going to hold just as we all kind of grapple with what does it look like to adhere to the government mandate, especially in light of Governor Abbott last night,” he said. “We haven’t heard about how that will affect anything at all.”