Southwest Airlines continued to have those unexplainable problems again yesterday as hundreds more flights were cancelled. This followed a weekend of over 1800 flights cancelled. Over 800 flights were canceled on Saturday and 1187 were delayed. 1000 flights were cancelled on Sunday or 29% of their schedule.
Initially it was claimed there was “bad weather” and air traffic control issues.
Southwest continued to claim “bad weather” yesterday but said it was improving. “Although we have some new weather in parts of our system, today’s operation has vastly improved from the weekend, with a much smaller number of cancellations linked to our weekend recovery efforts,” the carrier said.
But some pointed out how the “bad weather” after Friday didn’t seem to be showing up in weather reports or affecting other carriers’ airplanes so it was a strange kind of weather. The FAA said that there were no air traffic control staffing issues since Friday so that seemed not to be the justification either. They called it “aircraft and crews being out of place.”
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The airline denied that the situation was due to an employee action.
Southwest issued an update Monday afternoon, extending “a tremendous apology” to customers and employees, saying the company has “been working diligently to restore stability to the network, and we are experiencing less disruptions on Monday.”
The airline reiterated that “the operational challenges were not a result of Southwest Employee demonstrations.”
The Southwest Pilots Association also denied any official or unofficial job action, but their safety committee made clear they were not happy about the coronavirus vaccine mandate.
“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.
So the pilots’ union is definitely trying to fight the mandate by asking for a temporary restraining order.
Henry H. Harteveldt, president and travel industry analyst at The Atmosphere Research Group, based in San Francisco, said part of the issue was how Southwest scheduled things: that they were scheduling too many flights and because they had a point to point route network, so that when there are delays it tends to effect everywhere else. But he also pointed to the likelihood that some pilots who oppose Southwest’s vaccine mandates were participating in a job action that might be considered illegal. That would be one reason that it might not be acknowledged.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) blamed Joe Biden’s “illegal vaccine mandate” and tweeted out a photo of a Gadsden flag that was allegedly flying from a grounded Southwest plane.
Now we’ll note we can’t verify when or where that picture was taken, but it’s going viral now, allegedly sent from a pilot.
There’s also another viral posting allegedly from a pilot speaking out against the mandate and for freedom. Again, that hasn’t been verified.
There have also been questions about opposition to vaccine mandates next hitting American Airlines and questions about it affecting Amtrak now as well.
In a situation where we already had issues because of shortages from pandemic restrictions, now on top of that Joe Biden has added vaccine mandates and has been trying to force federal employees and contractors, as well as private businesses with over 100 employees to be vaccinated (although he has not as yet implemented that OSHA rule he announced). As the pilots association notes, that will only exacerbate issues still further.
But as we previously reported, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott defied Biden yesterday and seemingly threw Southwest a lifeline by banning vaccine mandates. It remains to be seen how that will play out, however. Stay tuned.