Southwest Canceled Nearly 2,000 Flights Leaving Passengers Stranded

by Jennifer Shea

Southwest Airlines canceled just shy of 2,000 flights this weekend. It has publicly blamed inclement weather and air traffic control issues.

The airline canceled more than 800 flights yesterday and 1,000 flights today. All told, that was more than a quarter of its scheduled flights this weekend.

In a statement to The Hill, Southwest attributed the cancellations to the weather and unspecified air traffic control issues. But no other airline has had to cancel flights en masse.

Southwest Points to Florida Airports As Source of Trouble

“We experienced weather challenges in our Florida airports at the beginning of the weekend,” Southwest told The Hill. “Challenges that were compounded by unexpected air traffic control issues in the same region, triggering delays and prompting significant cancellations for us beginning Friday evening. With fewer frequencies between cities in our current schedule, recovering during operational challenges is more difficult and prolonged.”

Neither the pilots’ nor the flight attendants’ unions are participating in any job actions this weekend, CBS reports. And the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) tweeted that they have seen no air traffic staffing shortages since Friday.

Some had speculated that Southwest employees called in sick to protest Southwest’s recently-announced COVID-19 vaccination mandate. But the airline denied that there had been any such thing.

“We’ve continued diligent work throughout the weekend to reset our operation with a focus on getting aircraft and crews repositioned to take care of our customers,” Southwest said in a statement.

In Note to Staff, Flight Operations Chief Blamed FAA Air Traffic Management Program

Meanwhile, in a note to Southwest staff, the man who oversees daily flight operations blamed the cancellations on the implementation of an FAA air traffic management program.

“We experienced significant impact in the Florida airports [Friday] evening after an FAA-imposed air traffic management program was implemented due to weather and resulted in a large number of cancellations,” Alan Kasher wrote in a memo on Saturday, per CNBC.

This summer, Southwest had to cancel hundreds of flights due to staffing shortfalls. Like other airlines, it had urged workers to leave or take buyouts at the height of the pandemic. Then travel demand came roaring back, leaving Southwest flat-footed. Since then, the airline has had a hard time reeling in new employees.

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association noted that reports of fatigue have reached triple their normal levels recently. And it pointed to staffing issues, inefficient scheduling and the recently-announced vaccine mandate as “added distraction[s] in the cockpit.”

“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,” the union added.