Southwest Airlines cancels after riots upset commuters

Travelers wait to check-in at the Southwest Airlines ticketing counter at Baltimore, Washington International Thergood Marshall Airport on October 11, 2021, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Kevin Dietsch | Getty Images

The carrier is stabilizing its operations after Southwest Airlines canceled flights on Tuesday, or 2% of its schedule, after thousands of customers’ travel plans were disrupted after a weekend chaos.

According to flight-tracking site FlightAware, the Dallas-based airline has canceled nearly 240,000 flights since Saturday, blaming a number of factors, including a shortage of its own staff, especially backup pilots and flight attendants to take action when things go wrong.

Sunday’s disruptions peaked at more than 1,100 cancellations, as nearly 30% of southwest flights were canceled as the carrier attempted its biggest schedule since April 2020.

The airline said in a statement on its website on Tuesday, “Southwest Airlines extends its sincere apologies to our customers and employees for the cancellation and delay of weekend and Monday flights.”

The carrier said bad weather and air traffic control problems in Florida have started its problems, causing planes and crew to get out of place and hundreds to be canceled.

Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, which represents more than 9,000 carrier pilots, told CNBC that the airline’s poor planning was responsible for the problems. The airline has already postponed its fall schedule due to disruptions throughout the summer following complaints from tired crews.

Mike Van de Ven, chief executive officer of the Southwest, who was promoted to president last month, told staff on Sunday that it could further reduce his schedule and that he was trying to create a “stuffing cushion”.

Over the weekend, 2,16 southwest flights were canceled due to crew absences, the pilots’ union told members Tuesday night.

Murray told CNBC that the pilots chose mostly open travel because of the disruption.

August is set to be the second-worst month for pilot fatigue calls since August, a record 633, the union said.

It further said that sick calls were higher than in the previous October.

“But past Octobers have not been affected by chronic manning problems and growing fatigue since June,” the union wrote. “When you look at the data for 2021, the rate of illness is slowly increasing because our workers continue to deteriorate by operation. Fatigue data confirms those statistics.”

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