**UPDATE 10/12/21 @ 16:10 UTC – Detailed comment from Southwest and hiring numbers**
The US Federal Aviation Administration has released a statement to support Southwest Airlines after rumors began spreading that mass flight cancellations had resulted from employee backlash to a vaccine mandate. The US airline canceled thousands of flights over the last few days, but the FAA insists there is no evidence the groundings are related to the vaccine requirement.
Over the weekend, Southwest Airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights. It canceled another 300 on Monday, with around 90 canceled today, causing significant disruption for passengers across the US. The airline initially released a statement claiming the cancellations were “primarily created by weather and other external constraints, which left aircraft and Crews out of pre-planned positions to operate our schedule.”
However, it didn’t take long for the rumor mill to start churning. The theory that took hold was that the airline was suffering a lack of pilots who were calling in sick to protest a vaccine mandate.
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A vaccine mandate or bad weather?
Southwest announced last week that it would require all employees to have the COVID-19 vaccine before December 8th or risk termination. Fresh outrage regarding the mandate led to suggestions that employees were protesting and not coming to work. The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that unions requested a temporary lock on the mandate.
To be clear: None of the information from Southwest, its pilots union, or the FAA indicates that this weekend’s cancellations were related to vaccine mandates. https://t.co/G1fLODSIDS
— The FAA ✈️ (@FAANews) October 11, 2021
Now the FAA has waded into the argument stating,
“To be clear: None of the information from Southwest, its pilot’s union, or the FAA indicates that this weekend’s cancellations were related to vaccine mandates.”
Even the pilot’s union commented, “We can say with confidence that our pilots are not participating in any official or unofficial job actions.” The union went on to blame “poor management.”
What did cause the cancellations?
According to Southwest, the FAA, and the unions, bad weather in Florida combined with some Air Traffic Control Issues caused several cancellations. This led to a string of problems as the displaced crew were then unable to operate other flights.
However, many people doubt the official version of events, pointing out that Southwest is the only airline affected. Furthermore, stormy weather has happened before without similar consequences. Over the weekend, both United Airlines and American Airlines did cancel flights but not nearly as many. According to the Washington Post, American canceled less than 100, and United canceled fewer than 50.
Of course, like many airlines, Southwest did ask some staff to retire early at the beginning of the pandemic to save money. Now demand is increasing, the airline may not have enough employees to cover flights when cancellations cause problems. The airline confirmed it is looking to hire around 5,000 new staff members by the end of 2021 to prevent future problems.
What do you think of the FAAs statement? Do you think the cancellations were caused by staff shortages? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.