As we reported earlier today, Southwest Airlines canceled hundreds of flights yesterday claiming, initially, that it was due to bad weather and that there were air traffic control issues.
But their issues continued, with another 1,000 flights canceled today, as well — almost 28% of their total flights. This was the second straight day of significant issues.
As we noted earlier, the claim of “weather” didn’t match what was happening in the country, and it wasn’t hitting other carriers. So, that wasn’t the real story. Fox’s Leland Vittert indicated that there was a “mass sickout” in protest of vaccine mandates. That many scrapped flights is obviously an internal problem, not weather.
The FAA claimed that the problem wasn’t due to air traffic control issues, that there had been no staffing shortage reported since Friday. “Some airlines continue to experience scheduling challenges due to aircraft and crews being out of place. Please contact the airlines for details about current flight schedules,” they said.
Hardest hit by the cancellations were Denver, Baltimore, Dallas Love Field and Chicago Midway airports, and while they said things would get better on Sunday, they actually got worse.
While the Southwest Pilot’s Association said they weren’t participating in any official or unofficial job action, they decried Southwest’s “poor planning” and “operational challenges,” noting that the COVID vaccine mandate — on top of existing shortages and issues — was a further distraction.
“Make no mistake about it – due to months of staffing issues and inefficient scheduling practices we have been operating at a higher than normal operational risk,” the union’s safety committee told members in a post on Saturday.
It said reports of fatigue, which require pilots not to fly, are triple historic norms.
“All of these challenges have led to an added distraction in the cockpit,” it said. “This week’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate announcement by the Company only exacerbates the situation.”
On Friday, the labor union asked a federal court in Dallas to temporarily block the implementation of the vaccine mandate and other Covid-19 policies, arguing the company took unilateral decisions that require negotiations with the union.
Southwest may only be the tip of the iceberg. American Airlines may be next up on the list, with the union representing its pilots warning the company could face a staffing shortage if they implement a stringent vaccine mandate. So, things could get very interesting, right as we enter the holiday season.
Thanks, Joe Biden!