The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, October 12, 2021 1:00 am

Southwest cancels another 10% of flights

Blames air traffic, weather issues, not vaccine mandate

DAVID KOENIG | Associated Press

DALLAS – Southwest Airlines canceled several hundred more flights Monday following a weekend of major disruptions that it blamed on bad weather and air traffic control issues.

The company and the pilots union said the cancellations were not in response to the airline's decision to mandate vaccinations.

Southwest canceled more than 360 flights – 10% of its schedule for the day – Monday, and more than 1,000 others were delayed, the FlightAware tracking service said.

The disruptions began shortly after the union for Southwest's 9,000 pilots asked a federal court Friday to block the airline's order that all employees get vaccinated against COVID-19. The union said it doesn't oppose vaccination, but it argued in its filing that Southwest must negotiate such a step.

Pilots are not conducting a sickout or slowdown to protest the vaccine mandate, according to the union, which said it “has not authorized, and will not condone, any job action.”

The pilots association offered another explanation: It said Southwest's operation “has become brittle and subject to massive failures under the slightest pressure” because of a lack of support from the company. The union complained about the “already strained relationship” between it and the company.

Alan Kasher, Southwest's executive vice president of daily operations, said the airline was staffed for the weekend, but got tripped up by air-traffic control issues and bad weather in Florida and couldn't recover quickly. Because of cutbacks during the pandemic, he noted the airline has fewer flights to accommodate stranded passengers.

The White House has pushed airlines to adopt vaccine mandates because they are federal contractors – they get paid by the Defense Department to operate flights, including those that carried Afghanistan refugees to the U.S. this summer.

Southwest told employees last week they must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8 to keep their jobs. Workers can ask to skip the shots for medical or religious reasons.

Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration acknowledged delays in part of Florida on Friday but pushed back against Southwest's air-traffic control explanation.

The FAA said Sunday that “some airlines” were experiencing problems because of planes and crews being out of position. Southwest was the only airline to report such a large percentage of canceled and delayed flights over the weekend.

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