News & Politics

Southwest Cancels 1,800 Flights. Is There a 'Sickout' Over the Vaccine Mandate?

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

If you’re just hearing about this now, you’re not alone. There is apparently a “meltdown” at Jacksonville International Airport that has led to the cancelation of more than 1,800 Southwest Airlines flights. The company says the cancelations are due to weather and “air traffic control issues.”

Well, the claim that weather is the culprit is absurd. Other airlines, according to the respected aviation site One Mile at a Time, are operating at near capacity.

  • On Saturday American canceled 66 flights (2% of the schedule), Delta canceled 16 flights (less than 1% of the schedule), and United canceled 11 flights (less than 1% of the schedule)
  • On Sunday American canceled 63 flights (2% of the schedule), Delta canceled three flights (less than 1% of the schedule), and United canceled six flights (less than 1% of the schedule)
  • On Saturday, October 9, 2021, Southwest canceled 808 flights (24% of the schedule) and delayed 1,154 flights (35% of the schedule)
  • On Sunday, October 10, 2021, Southwest canceled 1,007 flights (27% of the schedule) and delayed 120 flights (3% of the schedule)

Speculation centered on air traffic control employees walking out because of the vaccine mandate.

If it had been a controller issue, other airlines would have been affected. But the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association recently filed a suit against the airline’s vaccine mandate. One Mile at a Time explained:

It seems that there could be something further going on. It’s my understanding that a huge number of Southwest pilots have called in sick this weekend, much more than usual. It’s anyone’s guess what the cause of that is, but it follows the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) on Friday asking a court to block the airline from requiring vaccination, in anticipation of an upcoming federal mandate.

SWAPA had already filed a lawsuit against Southwest, claiming that the airline was violating labor laws. The union now doesn’t want the airline to be able to require vaccination (in line with the expected federal mandate) until existing issues are resolved. The union claims that the airline is taking unilateral action that violates the Railway Labor Act (including requiring vaccination), which is supposed to govern relations between airlines and unions.

Given the timing here, I have a hard time imagining that it’s a total coincidence that so many pilots are calling in sick this weekend.

The “sickout” is made infinitely worse because airports and airlines have yet to recover from pandemic-related labor shortages. Flight attendants and pilots are especially in short supply and even a few dozen pilots calling in sick could cause all kinds of problems in staffing.

The further issue with the airline industry is the domino effect when it comes to irregular operations. Airline operations are incredibly complex, and when a plane has a problem in one place, it can have huge issues down the line.

That’s what we’re seeing here. The delays and cancelations are also affecting other airlines besides Southwest. And experts are saying the problem may get worse before it gets better.

Of course, Southwest Airlines would want to keep this news of a pilot “sickout” under wraps. But this isn’t news to a lot of aviation experts, so why the news blackout?

The obedient puppies are hoping to get a treat from Master Joe, no doubt.