A Southwest Airlines Boeing 37 Max aircraft with a Boeing 37 Max model in front of a United Airlines aircraft at William P. Hobby Airport in Houston, Texas, March 1, 201. Depicted in
Lauren Elliott | Reuters
On Sunday, Southwest Airlines canceled more than 1,000 flights, affecting the travel plans of thousands of customers, blaming 27% of its schedule, airline air traffic control issues and bad weather.
“We have felt a significant impact at Florida airports [Friday] Due to the weather, the FAA-imposed air traffic management program was canceled in the evening and in large quantities after implementation, ”Alan Kashar, who oversees daily flight operations, said in a note to staff on Saturday.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees aviation, did not immediately comment. Southwest apologized to travelers for waiting long customer service.
Southwest said in a statement on Saturday that it hoped “we will return to normal activities as we move towards Sunday.”
“We are working hard behind the scenes to minimize the challenges of taking care of the displaced crew and customers as quickly as possible and to fully recover the operation,” the agency said.
According to flight tracking site FlightAware, the Dallas-based airline canceled 808 flights on Saturday. American Airlines, which operates a large hub in Miami, has, by comparison, canceled its main mainline flights, or 2% of its operations, and Spirit Airlines, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has canceled 322% of its schedule.
Staff shortages have fueled hundreds of cancellations in the southwest over the summer. The airline cut its schedule after the summer to avoid further disruptions. Other airlines faced a shortage of workers after being encouraged to take thousands of vacations or buyouts at the height of the epidemic, due to travel needs to return faster than expected this summer.
Southwest did not immediately comment on whether staff shortages contributed to the cancellation this weekend.
The airline is struggling to recruit new employees. Incoming CEO Bob Jordan told CNBC last month that the carrier is ready to cut flights during the spring break season if it does not have enough staff to support the operation.
Discrepancies between the Southwest operation and other airlines have created speculation on social media that workers are calling themselves sick.
“We can say with confidence that our pilots are not participating in any official or private jobs,” said the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, the Southwest Pilots Labor Union.
It said, “Our pilots will continue to overcome any external operational challenges in addition to poor planning by SWA management and remain the most productive pilots in the world.”
Earlier Saturday, the union noted that the company’s recent announcement that it would comply with the Biden administration’s requirements that federal contractors must make covid vaccinations mandatory for workers is creating confusion for pilots.
The union’s security committee told members in a post on Saturday, “Make no mistake about it – we’re doing more than the usual operational risk because of months of staffing problems and inefficient scheduling practices.”
It states that reports of fatigue, for which pilots do not have to fly, are three times more historic.
“All of these challenges have led to additional confusion in the cockpit,” it said. “The announcement of the company’s Covid-1 vaccine mandate this week exacerbates the situation.”