Thousands of travelers were temporarily stranded over the weekend, as Southwest Airlines canceled or delayed hundreds of flights at some of America’s busiest airports.
The airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration cited a few factors for the chaos.
Military training and inclement weather were two of them. But also mentioned were “unexpected air traffic control issues,” which reportedly stemmed from the airport in Jacksonville.
That led many to speculate whether Southwest employees had walked out in protest of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Leland Vittert of News Nation tweeted: “Airline sources: mass ‘sickout’ @FAANews center in Jacksonville – caused a ripple effect and 1000+ flight cancellations mostly effecting (sic) @SouthwestAir – report “sickout” protesting #VaccineMandate.”
Fox Business reported on Sunday that Southwest canceled 1,018 flights and had another 597 flights delayed just on Sunday. On Saturday, Southwest was forced to cancel 808 flights, with another 1,187 flights delayed.
The delays affected the company’s primary hubs and major connecting sites, including Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Jacksonville, and Denver.
In a statement to Fox Business, Southwest attributed the situation to “weather challenges in our Florida airports at the beginning of the weekend, 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.”
“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,” the statement continued. “With fewer frequencies between cities in our current schedule, recovering during operational challenges is more difficult and prolonged. We’re working diligently to accommodate our customers as quickly as possible, and we are grateful for their patience.”
“We’re offering customers added flexibility to explore self-service rebooking options on Southwest.com, where they can get updates on the status of their travel. We know the frustration flight cancellations are creating for our customers and employees and we apologize, and we again thank everyone for their patience as we work first to be safe, and second to be as quick as possible in solving disrupted plans,” the airlines concluded.
Neither Southwest nor the FAA elaborated on the nature of the “unexpected” air traffic control issues.
But News Nation noted on its website, “Customers have heard that employees may have walked off the job due to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate issued about a week ago.”
Southwest, based in Dallas, had announced that employees have until Dec. 8 to get a COVID-19 vaccine or seek a religious or medical exemption. The company did so in order to comply with the Biden administration’s mandate for U.S. government contractors.
Some news outlets noted that the cancellations started after the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, the pilots’ union, which represents 9,000 pilots, went to court to block the company mandate.
“The new vaccine mandate unlawfully imposes new conditions of employment and the new policy threatens termination of any pilot not fully vaccinated by December 8, 2021,” the legal filing said. “Southwest Airlines’ additional new and unilateral modification of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement is in clear violation of the RLA [Railway Labor Act],” the law that governs negotiations between the union and the carriers.
Some on the right accepted the idea that Southwest employees abandoned their posts to protest the mandate.
“Southwest Airlines employees with bigger b—s than professional athletes!!!” tweeted sports commentator Jason Whitlock of The Blaze.
Conservative writer Daniel Horowitz said on Twitter, “The southwest (sic) quasi strike is probably the most important groundswell from we the people thus far. This needs to grow. I’d rather all travel be ground to a halt for weeks than lose liberty long term. It’s time to go on offense and force this issue once and for all.”
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