Southwest Airlines Cancels 1,800 Flights, Blames Staffing Problems and Bad Weather

Over the weekend, Southwest Airlines disrupted the plans of thousands of customers after canceling more than 1,800 flights. The Dallas-based airline cited air traffic control problems and bad weather as the reason behind the cancellations, although other airlines canceled few flights in comparison. 

Southwest Airlines, In a note seen by CNBC, announced that employees must be vaccinated, released a statement

ROBYN BECK | Getty Images

In a note seen by CNBC, Southwest Airlines’ executive vice president of daily flight operations Alan Kasher told employees that the airline was staffed for the weekend, but it didn’t anticipate “significant disruption that was created from unexpected [air traffic control] issues and bad weather” across its Florida stations.

“[Air traffic control] issues and disruptive weather have resulted in a high volume of cancellations throughout the weekend while we work to recover our operation,” the airline wrote in a tweet on October 9.

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

According to CNBC, Southwest canceled around 808 flights on Saturday. The airline then canceled 1,019 on Sunday, which made up nearly a third of its schedule. In comparison, American Airlines canceled 66 mainline flights on Saturday, which accounted for only 2% of its schedule.

The Federal Aviation Administration said that although there were a “few hours” of flight delays on Friday afternoon due to severe weather and staffing issues at its Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center, no air traffic staffing shortages have been reported since Friday.

The mass flight cancellations come nearly a week after Southwest announced that employees must be vaccinated by December 8 to continue working for the airline. However, the company denies a connection between the announcement and the flight disruptions.

“It’s inaccurate,” a Southwest spokeswoman told CNBC in an email. “There’s a lot of unfounded rumor and speculation circulating.”

On October 9, Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, the Southwest pilots’ labor union, released a statement further emphasizing that pilots are not engaging in any “unofficial job actions.”

“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,” the statement read. 

“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.”

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