There's conflicting answers over what's happening in the airline industry today. What some say is due to bad weather and air traffic control issues, while others are arguing that pilots in protest over COVID-19 vaccine mandates is what's causing a widespread disruption. Over on social media this weekend, online chatter is growing with increasingly unsatisfied Southwest Airlines customers who are facing delays and cancellations for their flights. The replies to this Southwest Airlines tweet from the official company account are filled with grievances.
According to CNBC, on Sunday, it's over 1,000 additional Southwest Airline flights facing cancellation. This on top of the 808 canceled flights back on Saturday.
The outlet says Southwest Airlines overseer Alan Kasher gave this official line of reasoning to employees: "We experienced significant impact in the Florida airports [Friday] evening after an FAA-imposed air traffic management program was implemented due to weather and resulted in a large number of cancellations."
The FAA also said there was "severe weather and staffing issues" impacting service at Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center. This is what that looks like.
People are speculating the situation with Southwest Airlines isn't about air traffic control, but the company's pilots on a protest, walking out over a vaccine mandate.
Prominent conservative commentators took to Twitter to voice speculation. Human Events senior editor Jack Posobiec tweeted: "Way more to this Southwest thing Other airline crews are joining in." Posobiec added, "The Southwest airline workers are standing in the gap! Support!"
"Amazing. Southwest Airlines is blaming the weather for 1,000+ cancelled flights and not employees calling out sick over the vaccine mandate. Weird how the weather didn’t hit other airlines. Sounds as accurate as Fauci’s science! This is only the start. Disobedience has begun!" director and producer Robby Starbuck stated.
An outraged Twitter user posted a picture of four children sleeping on the floor of Orlando International Airport "because @SouthwestAir lied to us all day & night and then didn’t even have the decency to throw us a blanket. #SouthwestAirlines Will be a miracle if we leave here without #COVID19."
That's largely due to a matter of timing. As of Friday (according to Bloomberg), the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association union asked a federal court in Dallas to block the COVID-19 vaccine requirement while their lawsuit against Southwest Airlines Co. is ongoing. So what started in Jacksonville, Florida, has a ripple effect across the country.
According to USA Today "the heaviest flight cancellations for departures and arrivals Sunday are all big Southwest 'hubs,' even if the airline doesn't refer to them as such: Denver, Baltimore, Dallas Love Field, Las Vegas and Chicago Midway."
The union lawsuit cites violations of the Railway Labor Act:
"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. Southwest Airlines’ additional new and unilateral modification of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement is in clear violation of the RLA."
It's not just a COVID-19 vaccine mandate at play in litigation. There's other concerns about quarantine rules for pilots that impact work conditions and pay rates. The suit was originally filed at the end of August but mandated guidelines by Southwest company leadership placed a November 24th deadline on the COVID-19 jab, before the holiday rush.
Southwest Airlines Pilots Association told CNBC they "can say with confidence that our Pilots are not participating in any official or unofficial job actions."
The union went on to say: "Our Pilots will continue to overcome SWA management’s poor planning, as well as any external operational challenges, and remain the most productive Pilots in the world."
However union officials did note that the Biden administration's vaccine requirement for federal contractors is causing a distraction. That on top of "months of staffing issues and inefficient scheduling practices."
"We are working hard behind the scenes to minimize challenges and fully recover the operation as we take care of displaced Crews and Customers as quickly as possible," Southwest Airlines said.