The second-largest local airline in the US, Southwest Airlines canceled over 1800 flights since Saturday, leading to thousands of weary customers remaining stranded for much of the Columbus Day holiday. The airline released a media statement through its Twitter account, blaming the cancelations on unfavorable weather, staffing shortage, and air traffic issues. “While we work towards stabilizing our operations, we anticipate to resume normal service this week,” the airline commented in response to a tweet from a flier.
Other major domestic airlines faced cancelations as well, but not on a similar scale. China Eastern reported 12% cancelations, and American Airlines canceled 4% of its total flights. Though these airlines also blamed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the mishap occasioned by an air traffic management program, only Southwest claimed that it had limited staff to handle the mishap. This forced irate passengers to attack the company on social media, terming its latest move to enforce vaccine mandates as the sole reason for the staffing shortages.
The vaccine mandate is part of President Biden’s push on private companies to increase the number of vaccinated Americans. Some pilots were adamant about holding over the vaccine mandate, while many chose to stay away from work immediately after the announcement.
The mandate has not received as much support as the President expected. Southwest Airlines Pilot Association filed a legal petition asking a federal court in Dallas to temporarily block the execution of the vaccine mandate, stating it was a unilateral decision and requires negotiation with the union.
There is likely to be more pushback against the mandate as Southwest stock dipped further after the cancelations. The airline stocks were already on a long bearing run following the drop in domestic travel occasioned by the COVID-19. The fact that only Southwest Airlines seems to have had the worst hit is an indication that other airlines were not willing to implement the presidential directive.
Southwest Airline Pilot Association (SWAPA) released a statement that best sums up the complexity in the mandated order. It states, “Our pilots will continue to overcome the management’s poor planning and any external operational challenges and remain the most productive pilots in the world. They will continue focus on their highest priority — safety. SWAPA pilots are true professionals and will always maintain the highest level of responsibility to their crews, their passengers, and our airline.”