Southwest cancels hundreds more flights; passengers stranded

Southwest Airlines cancelled more than 350 flights Monday after a weekend of severe disruptions. The airline blamed bad weather and problems with air traffic control. Pilots union criticized Southwest Airlines for not responding to minor challenges that would have presented other airlines.

Southwest cancels hundreds more flights; passengers stranded

Passengers were left stranded in California, steaming to the East Coast after the third consecutive day of delayed and canceled flights.

Vanessa Wheeler said that it was difficult to relax when you wait for the next flight to be cancelled. After Southwest cancelled six flights in succession on her, she decided to fly home to Las Vegas with Delta Air Lines. She pledged to never fly Southwest again.

According to FlightAware, Monday's cancellations were 10% of Southwest Airlines' schedule. At least 1,400 flights, or approximately 40%, were also delayed. Southwest Airlines Co. shares fell 4.2%

The disruptions were triggered by Friday's request of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (representing 9,000 pilots) to a federal court to stop the airline from mandating that all employees be vaccinated. Southwest should negotiate the matter because it could lead to sick leave or disability for pilots who have had a reaction.

Union president Casey Murray said that while we aren't anti-vaccination, pilots are very concerned about how their medicals will be handled if they can't fly. Murray stated that pilots have not protested the mandate for vaccines.

Instead, he blamed Southwest's chaos for the past few days. He claimed that Southwest uses outdated crew-scheduling technology which causes cascading disruptions when flights in one area are canceled.

Both Southwest and American unions have also complained that management was too slow to return pilots from leave of absence they persuaded to take during the pandemic.

Southwest Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ve stated that even with a very aggressive hiring program, "we are still not at the place we want to go" in a video addressed to employees. He specifically mentioned pilots.

Staff shortages are causing fewer flights. Southwest cut its fall schedule after experiencing delays throughout the summer. Van de Ven stated that this had helped to reduce delays over the past month. He stated that Southwest had already made significant reductions in its November and December schedules. "If we feel we need to do more we will."

However, Southwest has fewer options for accommodating stranded passengers because of the reduced flights.

The Federal Aviation Administration admitted Friday's delays in Florida, but rejected Southwest's air traffic control explanation. Sunday's FAA statement stated that "some airlines" were having problems due to crews and planes being out-of-position. Southwest was the only airline that reported such a high percentage of cancelled and delayed flights during the weekend.

Brandy King, spokesperson for Southwest, said that there is no evidence to suggest the disruptions were caused due to employee protests over vaccinations.

Not only were there flight delays, but many passengers felt frustrated by the lack of clear reasons.

Brian Gesch, a Cedar Grove, Wisconsin resident, said that he was concerned because he and his wife had not provided an explanation. He didn't believe that the problem was caused by weather or air traffic controllers. "So, we are frustrated and miss a day work," he said.

Others simply wanted to get home as soon as possible.

After Southwest cancelled their flight, Kent Moddelmog drove 700 miles (1,127 km) from Phoenix to Dublin with his 14-year old son. He couldn't find a comparable flight that was not too expensive on another airline. Moddelmog stated that he wasn't willing to spend $3,000 just to get home.

A sales director at a consulting firm said that he flew Southwest many times per year, but had never been in such a situation.

Raymond James' airline analyst Savanthi Syth said that the weekend problems at Southwest will cause an increase in Southwest's expenses and worsen union relations.

Southwest has had a difficult summer due to high numbers of cancelled and delayed flights. It announced in August that it would reduce its September schedule by 27 flights per day (or less than 1%) and 162 flights per day (4.5% of the schedule) from October through November.

Because they are federal contractors, the White House pushes airlines to comply with vaccine mandates. They get paid by the Defense Department for operating flights that have carried Afghan refugees to the U.S. in this summer's summer.

United Airlines was the first major U.S. airline to announce a vaccination requirement. Even after President Joe Biden's order to federal contractors and large employers, Southwest had not spoken out. Southwest finally told employees last week that they had to be fully vaccinated by December 8 if they want to keep their jobs. Workers may request to skip shots if they are needed for religious or medical reasons.

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