The truth behind the recent Southwest flight cancellations

More than 2,000 Southwest flights have been canceled over the past few days, frustrating customers and sparking theories on social media. The problems began last Friday, with the airline attributing the mass changes to severe weather and air traffic control issues, which the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) later confirmed in part.

But while the FAA insists complications on its end were cleared up before the weekend, Southwest continued to struggle, canceling more than 1,800 flights across Saturday and Sunday. According to the New York Times, that amounted to more than 28 percent of its planned schedule. The Associated Press reported that hundreds more were canceled Monday and nearly 40 percent of those that remained on the schedule were delayed.

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

This is the second time in less than four months that Southwest has found itself grounding a significant sect of its planes—in June, the airline experienced two system-wide computer outages that disrupted more than 1,700 flights. The Times said Southwest’s incoming chief executive, Robert Jordan, also pointed to the loss of “thousands of employees” throughout the pandemic as another of the contributing factors for those cancellations. The labor shortage in this sector of the transportation industry has been escalating since the start of summer, as Americans started traveling again, and many airports across the country as well as several major airlines have all felt the squeeze, Vox reported in June.

The timing of this latest string of cancellations attracted significant attention on social media, as they began after the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) asked a federal court to block the airline’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

“We want to be perfectly clear: SWAPA is not anti-vaccination, but we do believe that, under all circumstances, it is our role to represent the health and safety of our Pilots and bring their concerns to the Company,” the pilot’s union said in a statement announcing their intentions. It also described these legal actions as part of an ongoing federal lawsuit SWAPA filed against Southwest in August for allegedly violating labor laws by failing to bargain with the union before making changes that impact worker operations and benefits.

“To be clear: None of the information from Southwest, its pilots union, or the FAA indicates that this weekend’s cancellations were related to vaccine mandates,” the FAA tweeted Monday.

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