Southwest Pilots Blame Management for Weekend ‘Meltdown’

 - October 11, 2021, 2:40 PM
Southwest Airlines had to cancel more than 2,000 flights from October 8 to 10. (Photo: Stephen Keller)

Southwest Airlines’ pilots' union blamed the low-cost carrier’s management for what it called an operational meltdown over the weekend in which the operator canceled more than 2,000 flights, or one of every three departures. The airline attributed the cancellations to air traffic control and weather disruptions.

The union called reports that pilots staged a "sickout" in protest of the airline's requirement that all of its employees get vaccinated for Covid-19 "erroneous."

“There are false claims of job actions by Southwest pilots currently gaining traction on social media and making their way into mainstream news,” said the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) president Casey Murray in a statement issued late Sunday. “I can say with certainty that there are no work slowdowns or sickouts either related to the recent mandatory vaccine mandate or otherwise.”

Southwest issued a Covid-19 vaccination requirement for all employees on October 4, joining every other U.S. major airline other than Delta in mandating the shot. SWAPA filed an injunction on October 8 seeking to block the Southwest mandate, which takes effect on December 8. Atlanta-based Delta plans to impose a $200 monthly surcharge on employee health care premiums for any employee who doesn’t get vaccinated.  

SWAPA officials planned to meet with Southwest Airlines vice-president of flight operations Bob Walz on Monday afternoon to discuss “accountability for those responsible for this months-long debacle,” in the unions’ words.

“SWA has claimed that the immediate causes of this weekend’s meltdown were staffing at Jacksonville Center and weather in the southeast U.S., but what was a minor temporary event for other carriers devastated Southwest Airlines because our operation has become brittle and subject to massive failures under the slightest pressure,” added Murray. “Our operation and our frontline employees have endured continuous and unending disruptions since the first time our airline made headlines in early June due to widespread IT failures. Our pilots are tired and frustrated because our operation is running on empty due to a lack of support from the company.”