Unclaimed luggage piles up between carousels for passengers arriving on Southwest Airlines flights at Denver International Airport late Sunday. Southwest Airlines canceled hundreds of flights over the weekend, blaming the woes on air traffic control issues and weather. (David Zalubowski / AP)
By Jack Davis October 11, 2021 at 4:53am
Competing explanations clashed Sunday as Southwest Airlines posted multiple flight cancellations.
The company blamed the cancellations on air traffic control problems and limited staffing in Florida as well as bad weather, according to CNN.
However, explanations bouncing around social media suggested that Southwest could have been hit by a job action due to its announcement last week that employees are required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. The announcement was aimed at complying with President Joe Biden’s vaccination mandate, the aviation news site Simple Flying reported.
The Federal Aviation Administration reported no shortage of air traffic control personnel and said poor weather had been limited to Friday afternoon. The union representing Southwest pilots issued a statement declaring no “official or unofficial” work stoppage was taking place, though the union had gone to court on Friday to try to halt the vaccination requirement.
Yet Southwest’s passengers were plagued by interruptions to their travel plans all weekend, and rumors flew.
“When I got to the line they rescheduled me on a flight tonight at 9, but that one was just canceled too,” traveler Wendie Kaminski, hoping to leave Chicago, said on Saturday, according to WGN-TV.
“We also heard inside that Southwest has had a walkout due to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate,” Kaminski said.
The revolt begins – at Southwest Airlines – Pilots at Southwest appear to be sicking out in a rebellion against vaccine mandates that has crippled the airline since Friday. by Alex Berenson – Unreported Truths – https://t.co/89VcqARroK
— Marc Morano (@ClimateDepot) October 10, 2021
If you’re a Southwest customer who’s angry that your flight was cancelled:
Don’t direct your anger at the employees, who aren’t showing up for work.
Focus your attention on Southwest for mandating vaccines for a job employees were already doing.
— #ThePersistence (@ScottPresler) October 10, 2021
Just remembered I’m supposed to fly Southwest home from Miami tomorrow!
Guess the Poso’s are staying in Florida longer lol
Don’t give up an inch, lads!
— Jack Posobiec ☦️ (@JackPosobiec) October 10, 2021
Even though the FAA discounted weather as a factor in airline flights, and other airline operations were largely routine, Southwest on Sunday blamed weather as the primary problem.
“We experienced weather challenges in our Florida airports at the beginning of the weekend, challenges that were compounded by unexpected air traffic control issues in the same region, triggering delays and prompting significant cancellations for us beginning Friday evening,” Southwest said in a statement to Fox Business.
“We’ve continued diligent work throughout the weekend to reset our operation with a focus on getting aircraft and crews repositioned to take care of our customers,” the statement added.
“With fewer frequencies between cities in our current schedule, recovering during operational challenges is more difficult and prolonged. We’re working diligently to accommodate our customers as quickly as possible, and we are grateful for their patience.”
CNN reported the Southwest canceled more than 1,000 flights on Sunday after scrubbing 808 flights on Saturday.
In a Twitter post published Sunday, the FAA said no air traffic controller staffing shortages had been reported since Friday afternoon.
“Flight delays and cancellations occurred for a few hours Friday afternoon due to widespread severe weather, military training and limited staffing in one area of the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center,” the post stated.
It attributed “scheduling challenges” to “aircraft and crews being out of place.”
Some airlines continue to experience scheduling challenges due to aircraft and crews being out of place. (2/2)
— The FAA ✈️ (@FAANews) October 10, 2021
Other airlines did not face the same problems as Southwest, according to reports.
“While Southwest blamed weather and traffic control issues for the widespread cancellations across its network, no other airline reported similar service disruptions this weekend. American Airlines, for example, had about 63 cancellations as of early Sunday afternoon and United Airlines only had nine,” The Washington Post reported Sunday.
The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association ascribed the cancellations to “management’s poor planning” and denied any employee action was to blame.
“SWAPA is aware of operational difficulties affecting Southwest Airlines today due to a number of issues, but we can say with confidence that our pilots are not participating in any official or unofficial job actions,” the union said in a statement Saturday.
On Friday, Southwest’s pilots went to court to block the vaccine mandate, according to Bloomberg.
“The new vaccine mandate unlawfully imposes new conditions of employment and the new policy threatens termination of any pilot not fully vaccinated by December 8, 2021,” the legal filing stated, according to Bloomberg.
“Southwest Airlines’ additional new and unilateral modification of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement is in clear violation of the RLA,” it said, referring to the Railway Labor Act, which covers labor relations between airlines and unions.