Southwest Airlines passengers didn’t have the best experience this past weekend as the company canceled thousands of flights. The mass cancellations left passengers stranded across the US, extended delays and led to long customer support wait times.
While the reasons behind all the cancellations aren’t entirely clear, some have speculated that it was due to pilots or air traffic controllers protesting. Southwest and the Federal Aviation Administration say this isn’t true.
What caused the flight cancellations?
Southwest reportedly canceled more than 2,000 flights this past weekend citing issues of weather and limited staffing at Florida airports. “ATC issues and disruptive weather have resulted in a high volume of cancellations throughout the weekend while we work to recover our operation,” Southwest said in a tweet Saturday.
The airline added more details about the issues on Monday.
“On Friday evening, the airline ended the day with numerous cancellations, primarily created by weather and other external constraints, which left aircraft and crews out of pre-planned positions to operate our schedule on Saturday,” Southwest Airlines said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the out-of-place aircraft and continued strain on our crew resources created additional cancellations across our point-to-point network that cascaded throughout the weekend and into Monday.”
The FAA confirmed that weather and staff shortage issues as well as military training Friday near the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center in Hilliard, Florida, contributed to the cancellations.
This created a cascading effect for Southwest that continued into Monday, with more than 300 flights canceled, according to FlightAware.
Are the cancellations related to walkouts over COVID-19 vaccine mandates?
No, according to Southwest and the FAA.
A tweet began circulating Saturday alleging a walkout of air traffic controllers at the Jacksonville International Airport due to a . Others on social media suggested Southwest employees are protesting the vaccine requirements the company implemented.
Rep. Chip Roy and Sen. Ted Cruz, both Republicans from Texas, tweeted about the cancellations. Roy said while he was unsure if this was airline employees or air traffic controllers rebelling, they would have his support. Cruz put the blame on Biden’s push for vaccine mandates.
In regard to the rumor of an air traffic controller walkout, flights in and out of the Jacksonville International Airport — where many Southwest flights were canceled — are handled by the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center. The FAA, which employees most air traffic controllers, said in a statement Monday there have been no staff shortages since Friday.
In a letter to the Jacksonville Aviation Authority board of directors received by WFOX on Sunday, Jacksonville Aviation Authority COO Tony Cugno said the air traffic controller staff issue at the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center was a combination of different factors. The first was approved leave for employees, and the second was a required 48-hour period when employees at the center have to stay home to self-monitor for any side effects following receiving a vaccine shot.
The FAA said it’s working to have its workers.
Another issue with the rumor: There would have been far more cancellations by other airlines if there was a walk-out by air traffic controllers. According to FlightAware, Southwest canceled 1,124 flights on Sunday, while the next US airline with the second-most cancellations was American Airlines with 167.
On Oct. 4, Southwest said it will require all employees to get vaccinated by Dec. 8. However, it confirmed in an emailed statement that the weekend’s canceled flights weren’t due to their new requirements.
“There is no truth behind the rumors that this is a job-related action,” the company said.
The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association that represents the airlines’ pilots also confirmed the cancellations weren’t due to a protest over the company’s vaccination requirements, according to a report from the Dallas Morning News.
The SWAPA said In a press release on Saturday that its pilots “were not participating in any official or unofficial job actions.” The union pointed to “management’s poor planning” and “external operational challenges” for cancellations over the weekend.