Lauren Moye, FISM News
Several travelers remain stranded and are struggling to figure out how to get home after Southwest Airlines Co. canceled over 2,000 flights this weekend. The airline company blamed bad weather and problems with air traffic control, but others speculate the delays have more to do with their recently announced vaccine mandate.
NPR reported that the airline group canceled 1,100 flights on Sunday by 5 pm (EST), and stat-tracking site FlightAware.com revealed that Southwest canceled over 2,000 flights by the end of Oct. 10. Additionally, Southwest canceled roughly 800 flights the day before.
Southwest Airlines tweeted an explanation for the canceled flights:
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 airline also explained in an emailed statement, “With fewer frequencies between cities in our current schedule, recovering during operational challenges is more difficult and prolonged.”
The FAA announced that there were no air traffic control related cancellations since Friday and the company’s Sunday cancelations accounted for over half of yesterday’s total flight cancelations.
This has led many to speculate that the true culprit of Southwest’s rocky weekend was the Oct. 4 announcement of a new vaccination policy, which would require all pilots and flight attendants to receive a Covid-19 vaccination.
On Friday, the Southwest Airlines Pilot Association filed petition to receive a temporary restraining order to prevent the company’s mandated vaccine policy from being enforced. SWAPA stated, “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.”
Although the flight cancelations began on Friday evening, SWAPA denied that the airline’s delays had anything to do with an informal strike. They said in a statement released on Saturday, “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.”
SWAPA also said their members will remain the “most productive Pilots in the world” and “continue to be focused on their highest priority – safety.”
Captain Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, also reiterated that while the pilots have several grievances with the company due to “lack of support,” that the “Union is forbidden from taking job action to resolve labor disputes.”
Meanwhile, Southwest continues to cancel flights. At 12:15pm (EST), the company has already canceled another 350 flights.