Southwest cancels hundreds of flights, denies sick leave – Twin Cities

By DAVID KOENIG

DALLAS (AP) – Southwest Airlines canceled hundreds of more flights on Monday after a weekend of major disruptions, which it blamed for bad weather and air traffic control problems. The company and the pilot association said the cancellations were not a response to the airline’s decision to impose vaccinations.

Southwest canceled more than 360 flights – 10% of its schedule for the day – on Monday, and more than 1,000 others were delayed, according to the FlightAware tracking service.

Shares in Southwest Airlines Co. briefly fell more than 4% before a partial recovery; they were 3% lower in the afternoon.

For the third day in a row with major cancellations, thousands of passengers were stranded stranded and upset.

“My concern is that we really had no explanation, it was, in my opinion, very legitimate or credible,” said Brian Gesch of Cedar Grove, Wisconsin, who was traveling through Reagan Washington National Airport with his wife. He doubted that weather and air traffic controllers were the real problem. “So we are frustrated and lack a working day.”

Some were less worried about the cause than just getting home.

“I’m not sure what’s going on,” said Sean Merrell of Frisco, Texas, “but as long as I can get back to Dallas, that’s all that matters to me.”

The widespread disruption began shortly after the Southwest 9,000 pilots union on Friday asked a federal court to block the airline’s order that all employees be vaccinated against COVID-19. The union said it was not against vaccination, but it argued in its application that Southwest should negotiate before taking such a step.

Pilots are not conducting an illness or slowdown to protest the vaccine mandate, according to the union, which said they “have not approved and will not accept any job actions.”

The pilots’ association offered another explanation: It said Southwest’s operation “has become brittle and subjected to massive failures under the slightest pressure” due to a lack of support from the company. The union complained about the “already strained relationship” between it and the company.

Airlines persuaded thousands of workers to take absences during the pandemic. Trade unions in Southwest and American have argued that management was too slow to bring pilots back, leaving them short-sighted.

Alan Kasher, Southwest’s executive vice president of daily operations, said the airline was manned over the weekend but was tripped by air traffic control problems and bad weather in Florida and could not recover quickly. Due to cuts during the pandemic, he noted that the airline has fewer flights to accommodate stranded passengers.

“The weekend challenges were not the result of staff demonstrations in the southwest,” said airline spokesman Chris Mainz.

The White House has pressured airlines to adopt vaccine mandates because they are federal contractors – they get paid by the Department of Defense to operate flights, including those that transported Afghanistan refugees to the United States this summer.

United Airlines was the first major US airline to announce a vaccination requirement. Southwest had been silent even after President Joe Biden announced his order to federal entrepreneurs and major employers. Finally last week, Southwest told employees they must be fully vaccinated by December 8 to keep their jobs. Workers can ask to skip the shots for medical or religious reasons.

Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration acknowledged delays in part of Florida on Friday, but pushed back against Southwest’s explanation of air traffic control. The FAA said Sunday that “some airlines” were having problems due to planes and crews being out of position. Southwest was the only airline to report such a large percentage of canceled and delayed flights over the weekend.

Savanthi Syth, airline analyst for Raymond James, said the weekend’s problems would increase Southwest’s costs and exacerbate the company’s strained relations with unions.

Southwest has struggled all summer with a large number of delayed and canceled flights. In August, it announced it was trimming its September schedule by 27 flights a day or less than 1% and 162 flights a day, or 4.5% of the schedule from early October to 5 November.

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Associated Press reporter Tracy Brown of Washington, DC, contributed to this report.

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