Southwest Airlines canceled several hundred flights on Monday as it worked to fix issues that forced more than a quarter of its scheduled flights to be suspended over the weekend.
More than 1,800 Southwest flights were canceled on Saturday and Sunday, accounting for more than 28 percent of weekend flights, according to FlightAware, a tracking service. By noon on Monday, Southwest had canceled about 10 percent of its scheduled flights for the day, just over 360 flights.
The cancellations wreaked havoc on travel plans for thousands of passengers, many of whom expressed frustration on social media. Some tried to make it to the Boston Marathon, which was canceled last year and postponed by six months this year.
The airline and union that represents its pilots, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said the disruption was not caused by protests against the airline’s recently announced vaccination mandate, and denied an idea that had found acceptance online among conservatives and anti-vaccination activists. activists. Conservative lawmakers pointed to Southwest’s cancellations as evidence that vaccine requirements could hurt the economy.
“Joe Biden’s Illegal Vaccine Mandate at Work!” senator Texas Republican Ted Cruz said Sunday night: on Twitter. “Suddenly we have a shortage of pilots and air traffic controllers.” Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson echoed those comments on Monday.
Southwest blamed the cancellations on a variety of causes, including problems with weather, air traffic control and the inability to get aircrews and planes where they were needed.
“We faced weather conditions at our Florida airports at the start of the weekend, challenges exacerbated by unexpected issues with air traffic control in the same region, causing delays starting Friday night and causing significant cancellations for us,” the statement said. airline in a statement. . “We’ve been working hard all weekend to realign our operation, focusing on repositioning aircraft and crews to take care of our customers.”
The Federal Aviation Administration acknowledged that some flights were delayed or canceled Friday due to severe weather, military training exercises and a brief staff shortage at an air traffic control center, but the outage lasted only a few hours.
“Some airlines are still experiencing scheduling issues because aircraft and crews are out of place,” the agency said in a statement.
Casey Murray, the president of the Southwest Pilots Union, said pilots called in sick at a normal pace this weekend.
The widespread cancellations, he said, were instead caused by technology issues and issues with how pilots are reassigned and rerouted during disruptions, a process complicated by Southwest’s uniquely large, point-to-point network. On a typical day, about 10 percent of pilots are reassigned to the flights they would be operating. That figure was 71 percent on Saturday and 85 percent on Sunday, according to Mr Murray.
“That’s untenable,” he said. “The domino effect continues, and what we’re seeing, as a result of some internal malfunctions, is that it happens so often that they just can’t move everyone.”
The union also said in a statement on Sunday that federal law prohibits its members from using a strike to resolve a labor dispute without exhausting other options first.
Although the union, which says it is not anti-vaccine, has denied that its members called in sick to protest the mandate, it asked a judge on Friday to stop the airline from enacting vaccine mandates and other policies. The request is part of a wider lawsuit that predates the mandate and centers around the union’s claim that Southwest has taken a number of “unilateral actions” in violation of labor laws.
Southwest isn’t alone in seeing employee resistance over a vaccine mandate. Last week, hundreds of American Airlines employees and supporters protested the new mandate outside that airline’s headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas. according to The Dallas Morning News.
But many others have expressed support for such requirements. United Airlines, the first major US airline to impose a mandate, has said nearly all of its 67,000 employees had been vaccinated, excluding about 2,000 who had applied for religious or medical exemptions. United said it expects to lay off fewer than 250 employees for not following the rules. The airline executives had expected a backlash but were surprised by the positive response, noting that they had received many more applicants for open flight attendant positions than before the pandemic.
“I appreciated the intensity of the support for a vaccine mandate that didn’t exist, because you hear that loud anti-vax voice a lot more than you hear the people who want it,” United CEO Scott Kirby told The New York Times. this month. “But there are more. And they are just as intense.”
Delta Air Lines has not imposed a vaccination requirement, but said it will charge unvaccinated employees an additional $200 per month for health insurance.