Southwest cancels hundreds more flights and another 500 delayed as company denies vaccine mandate behind chaos

Problems continue after a weekend of travel disruption amid vaccine row

Helen Elfer
Monday 11 October 2021 15:48
Southwest Airlines cause delays, cancellations in Phoenix, across US
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Southwest Airlines began the week with hundreds more canceled and delayed flights, following a weekend of travel chaos.

As of Monday morning, according to Flightaware, the carrier had cancelled 357 flights and delayed another 571.

The airline said in a statement on Twitter that it had experienced operational challenges over the weekend, as air traffic control issues and bad weather resulted in a high volume of cancellations.

CNBC reported that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said bad weather and staffing issues in Florida contributed to a “few hours” of flight delays on Friday afternoon, and that “No FAA air traffic staffing shortages have been reported since Friday.”

However, more than a thousand Southwest Airlines flights were cancelled on Sunday alone, and no other airlines reported problems on such a major scale.

Speculation abounded that the cancellations were in fact due to a ‘sick out’ by pilots who were unhappy at the company’s new Covid vaccine mandate.

Last week, Southwest announced a new vaccine mandate for its employees, saying it would be compulsory for staff members to be vaccinated to continue working for the airline from December 8. The Dallas-based company said its workers had until that date to get fully vaccinated, although employees could request exemption from the policy if they had medical or religious reasons.

Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) have fought back hard against the vaccine mandate, and on Friday filed a temporary restraining order against the company to halt it. The court was asked to temporarily block the company from carrying out federally mandated coronavirus vaccinations until an existing lawsuit, filed in August, over alleged labor law violations is resolved.

However, the SWAPA firmly denied that the cancellations and delays over the weekend were part of the pushback.

In a statement, the union said: “We can say with confidence that our Pilots are not participating in any official or unofficial job actions.”

Throughout the summer, Southwest Airlines has continuously reported high numbers of delayed and cancelled flights. In August it announced it was cutting 27 flights a day, or less than 1% of September’s schedule, and 162 flights a day, or 4.5% of the schedule between early October and November 5, reports ABC News.

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