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Chaos Continues for Southwest Passengers

Airline cancels hundreds more flights
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 11, 2021 12:09 PM CDT
Chaos Continues for Southwest Passengers
Passengers queue up at the ticketing counter for Southwest Airlines flights in Eppley Airfield Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Omaha, Neb.   (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

(Newser) – Southwest Airlines and its passengers had a rough weekend, and the problems spilled into Monday. The airline canceled about 2,000 flights from Friday through Sunday, amounting to a "meltdown in Southwest operations," per the Dallas Morning News. On Monday, it canceled about 365 more flights, or roughly 10% of its schedule, and delayed another 600, per the AP. Details:

  • Blame game: Why the delays? That's where things get confusing. Over the weekend, Southwest blamed a combination of bad weather and issues with the staffing of air traffic controllers. In a rare move, the FAA pushed back against that, saying there no were no staffing issues in regard to flight controllers, reports NPR.

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  • Only Southwest: CNN notes that whatever was happening didn't seem to affect other airlines. For example, American Airlines and Spirit Airlines canceled only 2% of their flights on Sunday, compared to Southwest's 30%.
  • The mandate: Speculation arose that the chaos was linked to the airline's mandate that all employees get vaccinated for COVID. On Friday, Southwest's pilot union asked a federal court to block that order, and critics of the mandate suggested the pilots were staging a walkout. "Joe Biden’s illegal vaccine mandate at work!" tweeted Ted Cruz. "Suddenly, we’re short on pilots & air traffic controllers." However, the union adamantly denied that any such walkout was at play, instead blaming inept management and flight scheduling by Southwest. The airline also called reports linking the trouble to the mandate "inaccurate" and "unfounded."
  • Short-staffed: CNBC notes that Southwest, like other airlines, has been struggling to regroup after the pandemic as demand for travel has increased faster than expected. Southwest President Mike Van de Ven told employees Sunday in a recorded message that the airline was under-staffed, "and “we’ll need to continue to adjust our schedules as this environment evolves.” That could mean further reductions in flights through the end of the year, he said.
  • Investors: They weren't pleased with the trouble. Shares of Southwest dropped 4.2% in trading Monday.
(Read more Southwest Airlines stories.)

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