Southwest Airlines has canceled over 1,800 flights since late Friday, blaming “disruptive weather” and problems with air traffic controllers.
The FAA, in a message, said the airline itself was suffering from staffing issues.
Speculation is rampant on social media that there is an unannounced walkout by pilots over the Covid-19 vaccine mandate that the airlines has enacted.
FlightAware, a popular flight-tracking service, reports that 30 percent of Southwest’s Sunday flights were canceled, totaling more than 1,000. Another 800 flights were canceled on Saturday, about one fourth of all Southwest flights. People report staying on hold for hours waiting for a Southwest reservation agent to help them reschedule. People all over the country report being stranded in airports, with the airline showing no concern for them.
Southwest said the cancellations began Friday as a result of weather in Florida and “were compounded by unexpected air traffic control issues in the same region, triggering delays and prompting significant cancellations for us beginning Friday evening.”
But other airlines are flying in the same region and through the same hubs with few cancelations, adding fuel to the speculation that this is a pilot walkout.
The Southwest Airlines Pilot Association says it’s not an official or unofficial walkout, but is due to poor management at the airlines:
“Our Pilots will continue to overcome SWA management’s poor planning, as well as any external operational challenges, and remain the most productive Pilots in the world. They will continue to be focused on their highest priority — safety. SWAPA Pilots are true professionals and will always maintain the highest level of responsibility to their crews, their passengers, and our airline,” SWAPA said in a statement on its website.
The FAA said in a statement on Twitter, “No FAA air traffic staffing shortages have been reported since Friday. Flight delays & cancellations occurred for a few hours Friday PM due to widespread severe weather, military training, & limited staffing in one area of the Jacksonville en route center. Some airlines continue to experience scheduling challenges due to aircraft and crews being out of place.”
On Friday, the FAA warned of weather affecting flights out of Charlotte, Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, Tampa, and Fort Lauderdale, which gives credence to the weather theory, but doesn’t explain why other airlines were able to operate.
Giving credence to the pilot walkout theory is that Southwest pilots asked a court for a temporary injunction against the company on Friday to prevent it from following the Biden-mandated Covid-19 vaccinations, at least until a lawsuit is settled involving whether the mandate violates U.S. labor law.
The SWAPA filing says the mandate violates the Railway Labor Act, which has authority over airline-union relations.
The SWAPA court filing says, “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. Southwest Airlines’ additional new and unilateral modification of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement is in clear violation of the RLA.”
The pilots union is also disputing the Southwest Airlines quarantine rules for pilots, as well as some pay and benefit items.
Pilots must pass medical examinations in order to maintain their commercial licenses. Some commercial pilots are concerned that there could be side effects from the Covid-19 vaccine that end their careers.
In a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation and President Joe Biden, Allied Pilots Association union president said, “Some of APA’s members are unable to undergo vaccination for documented medical reasons, while others are reluctant to get vaccinated based upon concerns about the potential for career-ending side effects.” Pilots are especially worried about blood clots and myocarditis, a heart condition.
APA wants to negotiate with the carriers how adverse reactions would be covered by the existing long-term disability insurance.
Southwest doesn’t serve Anchorage, although it has had summer service some years, but serves many places across the country and is now selling tickets for a new flight starting in November from Seattle to Bellingham, where many who work in Alaska’s commercial fisheries live.