- Southwest has so far canceled more than 1,800 flights over the weekend.
- The Dallas-based airline blamed the disruptions in Florida on air traffic control issues and inclement weather.
- Other airlines operating in the region reported very few cancellations.
Southwest Airlines canceled more than 1,000 flights on Sunday, 27% of its schedule, as the airline blamed air traffic control issues and bad weather affecting the travel plans of thousands of customers.
“We experienced significant impact in Florida airports [Friday] The weather in the evening implemented an air traffic management program put in place by the FAA and resulted in a large number of cancellations,” Alan Kasher, who oversees daily flight operations, told staff in a note on Saturday. .
The Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees air traffic, did not immediately comment. Southwest apologized to passengers for the long customer service wait.
Southwest said in a statement Saturday that it expects “to return to near normal operations as we move forward on Sunday.”
“We are working hard behind the scenes to minimize challenges and fully recover operations as we take care of displaced employees and customers as quickly as possible,” the company said.
According to flight-tracking site FlightAware, the Dallas-based airline canceled 808 flights on Saturday. American Airlines, which operates a larger hub in Miami, canceled 63 mainline flights, or 2% of its operations, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Spirit Airlines canceled 32 flights, 4% of its schedule. .
Staff shortages fueled hundreds of cancellations in Southwest over the summer. The airline cut its schedule after the summer to avoid further disruptions. Other airlines faced labor shortages after encouraging thousands to take or buy vacation at the height of the pandemic, only for travel demand to return faster than expected this summer.
Southwest did not immediately comment on whether a staff shortage contributed to the cancellation this weekend.
The airline has struggled to hire new employees. Incoming CEO Bob Jordan told CNBC last month that the carrier is prepared to cut flights over the spring break season if there are not enough employees to support operations.
The disparity between Southwest’s operations and those of other airlines fueled speculation on social media that employees were calling sick.
The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, the Southwest Pilots Labor Union, said that “we can say with confidence that our pilots are not participating in any official or unofficial job action.”
“Our pilots will continue to overcome SWA management’s poor planning, as well as any external operational challenges, and remain the most productive pilots in the world.”
Earlier on Saturday, the union noted that the company’s recent announcement that it would comply with the Biden administration’s requirement that federal contractors must mandate employees to have Covid vaccinations for aviators was contributing to distractions.
“Make no mistake about it – we are operating at higher than normal operational risk due to months of staffing issues and inefficient scheduling practices,” the union’s safety committee told members in a post on Saturday.
It said reports of fatigue, which require pilots not to fly, are triple the historical norm.
“All these challenges have created an additional distraction in the cockpit,” it said. “The announcement of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate by the company this week only exacerbates the situation.”