Southwest Airlines canceled more than 1,800 flights over the weekend, and the Federal Aviation Administration begs to differ with the airline as to the reason. Southwest cited air-traffic control issues and "disruptive weather," but the FAA said in a statement, "No FAA air traffic staffing shortages have been reported since Friday." Southwest, which canceled 808 flights Saturday and 1,018 Sunday, alongside nearly 2,000 delayed flights over the course of the two days, then explained further to Fox Business. "Weather challenges" in Florida, coupled with the air-traffic control issues, started the problems off Friday night, the company says, and it was hard to get back on track after that.
"With fewer frequencies between cities in our current schedule, recovering during operational challenges is more difficult and prolonged," the airline says. By Sunday night, the airline had canceled 29% of its weekend schedule, by far the highest percentage of any major airline, the AP reports. (In second place was Allegiant, which canceled 6% of its flights.) A travel industry analyst says that since the summer, Southwest has been scheduling more flights than it can handle, that its point-to-point route network can cause a "cascade" effect when a flight is delayed, and that Southwest pilots opposed to the company's vaccine mandate may be calling in sick to engage in a "work slowdown."
While Southwest isn't blaming or even mentioning the vaccine mandate, speculation was running rampant on Twitter and elsewhere that a "sickout" could be at least partially to blame. TMZ reports that Southwest's pilot union filed legal documents Friday looking to halt the mandate. The union, however, says in a statement, "[W]e can say with confidence that our Pilots are not participating in any official or unofficial job actions." Many on social weren't so sure: "Southwest Airlines employees, keep pushing back!" reads one sample tweet. "Air Traffic Controllers, keep pushing back! Hold the line! Make the airline industry crack." (Read more Southwest Airlines stories.)