87th LegislatureHealthcareIssuesSouthwest Pilots Union Blames Cancelations on Airline’s ‘Poor Planning’ Amid Vaccine Mandate Controversy

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association has requested a temporary restraining order in light of the vaccination mandate.
October 11, 2021
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After announcing a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for its employees last week, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is staring down broad irritation from customers and controversy after a chaotic weekend marked by thousands of canceled and delayed flights due in part to a personnel shortage.

Southwest employees have until December 8 to comply with the immunization requirement to avoid facing loss of employment.

The Southwest Airlines Pilot Association (SWAPA) has vocally opposed the airline’s vaccination mandate, including requesting a temporary restraining order against its enforcement. However, the pilots union put out a statement on Saturday indicating that the shortages were not part of an organized action.

“SWAPA is aware of operational difficulties affecting Southwest Airlines today due to a number of issues, but we can say with confidence that our Pilots are not participating in any official or unofficial job actions,” SWAPA wrote.

“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. They will continue to be focused on their highest priority — safety.”

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The statement went on to call them “true professionals” who “will always maintain the highest level of responsibility to their crews, their passengers, and our airline.”

As for the airline itself, Southwest attributed the cancelations and delays to severe weather conditions as well as air traffic control issues. About 10 percent of flights had been canceled and 29 percent had been delayed on Monday, according to FlightAware, a website that monitors the aviation industry.

Popular Southwest locations Dallas Love Field, Chicago Midway, and airports in Baltimore and Denver were included in those that weathered the greatest number of cancelations on Sunday, CNBC reported.

The situation was reportedly worse over the weekend, with 30 percent of flights canceled on Sunday and another 32 percent delayed.

Encouraging customers to consider rebooking their flights, Southwest Airlines tweeted on Saturday, “[Air traffic control] issues and disruptive weather have resulted in a high volume of cancellations throughout the weekend while we work to recover our operation.”

The airline added, “We appreciate your patience as we accommodate affected Customers, and Customer Service wait times are longer than usual.”

However, Southwest Airlines did not seem to be on the same page with the federal government over the weekend.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) weighed in on Sunday, tweeting, “No FAA air traffic staffing shortages have been reported since Friday. Flight delays & cancellations occurred for a few hours Friday PM due to widespread severe weather, military training, & limited staffing in one area of the Jacksonville en route center.”

The agency added, “Some airlines continue to experience scheduling challenges due to aircraft and crews being out of place.”

On Sunday evening, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) called it “Joe Biden’s illegal vaccine mandate at work,” leading to air traffic controller and pilot staffing shortages. President Biden issued an executive order on September 9 mandating COVID-19 immunizations for federal employees and contractors.

Both the airline itself and SWAPA contend that the Biden administration has backed Southwest into a corner by requiring federal contractors to mandate vaccinations.

A number of other major airlines, including American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and JetBlue Airways, are also requiring their employees to be vaccinated. However, those airlines altered considerably fewer flights than Southwest.

When he called the Texas legislature to Austin for a third special session, Governor Greg Abbott placed on the agenda legislation that would prevent local governments from implementing vaccine mandates. Such a prohibition would not apply to private companies.

In another move late Monday, Abbott announced a sweeping executive order that prohibits any entity in Texas from requiring coronavirus vaccines. He also added it to the agenda for the third called session, stating that the enactment of such a law would then replace his executive action.

Southwest Airlines seemed undeterred in a statement on Tuesday.

“We’re reviewing all guidance issued on the vaccine and are aware of the recent Order by Gov. Abbott,” the airline said in response, per KXAN.

“According to the President’s Executive Order, federal action supersedes any state mandate or law, and we would be expected to comply with the President’s Order to remain compliant as a federal contractor.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include Abbott’s executive order against COVID-19 vaccination mandates and Southwest Airlines’ response.

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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a reporter for The Texan. He has coached high school competitive speech and debate and has also been involved in community theater and politics. A native Texan, Hayden served as a delegate at the Republican Party of Texas Convention in 2016. He is on track to receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Liberty University. In his free time, Hayden is known to take walks around the neighborhood while listening to random music on Spotify.