Those traveling on Southwest Airlines this past weekend likely didn’t have the best experience as the company canceled thousands of flights. The mass cancellations left passengers stranded across the US and led to long customer support wait times.
While the reasons behind all the cancellations aren’t entirely clear, some have speculated that it was due to pilots or air traffic controllers protesting. Southwest and the Federal Aviation Administration say this isn’t true.
What caused the flight cancellations?
Southwest reportedly canceled more than 2,000 flights this past weekend citing issues of weather and limited staffing at Florida airports. In a tweet Saturday, Southwest said “ATC issues and disruptive weather have resulted in a high volume of cancellations throughout the weekend while we work to recover our operation.”
The FAA confirmed that those issues, as well as military training near the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center that happened on Friday, contributed to the cancellations.
This created a cascading effect for Southwest that continued into Monday, with more than 300 flights canceled, according to FlightAware.
Are the cancellations related to walkouts over COVID-19 vaccine mandates?
No, according to Southwest and the FAA.
A tweet began circulating Saturday alleging a walkout of air traffic controllers at the Jacksonville International Airport due to a . Others on social media suggested Southwest employees are protesting the vaccine requirements the company implemented.
Rep. Chip Roy and Sen. Ted Cruz, both Republicans from Texas, tweeted about the cancellations. Roy said while he was unsure if this was airline employees or air traffic controllers rebelling, they would have his support. Cruz put the blame on Biden’s push for vaccine mandates.
In regard to the rumor of an air traffic controller walkout, flights in and out of the Jacksonville International Airport — where many Southwest flights were canceled — are handled by the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center in Hilliard, Florida. The FAA, which employees most air traffic controllers, says there have been no staff shortages since Friday, according to an emailed statement on Monday.
The agency said it is working to have its workers.
Another issue with the rumor: There would have been far more cancellations by other airlines if there was a walk-out by air traffic controllers. According to FlightAware, Southwest canceled 1,124 flights on Sunday, while the next US airline with the second-most cancellations was American Airlines with 167.
On Oct. 4, Southwest said it will require all employees to get vaccinated by Dec. 8. However, it confirmed in an emailed statement that the weekend’s canceled flights were not due to their new requirements.
“There is no truth behind the rumors that this is a job-related action,” the company said.
The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association that represents the airlines’ pilots also confirmed the cancellations were not due to a protest over the company’s vaccination requirements, according to a report from the Dallas Morning News.
In a press release on Saturday, the SWAPA said its pilots “were not participating in any official or unofficial job actions.” The union pointed to “management’s poor planning” and “external operational challenges” for cancellations over the weekend.