Southwest Airlines had a tough weekend, having to cancel 1,900 flights, citing external factors that don’t seem to affect other airlines.
The first reports into this situation came late on Saturday, focusing on the day’s events. Southwest itself did not confirm the number of flights it had to cancel. However, several flight-tracking websites noted the trend quickly. On Saturday the 9th of October, the airline cancelled 808 flights, amounting to 24% of its schedule.
On Sunday (10th of October) things got worse. According to flightaware, the airline cancelled 1,124 flights or 30% of its schedule. And the same source says that the total number of cancellations within, into, or out of the US on Sunday, was 1,523 flights. So, the flights Southwest had to cancel, amounted to 73.8% or nearly 3 out of 4 of ALL US flight cancellations!
In a statement, the airline said that its schedule faced unusual difficulties due to bad weather in Florida, in particular. They also listed air traffic control problems and staff issues, also in Florida, as contributing factors. The airline itself had the necessary staff, but not necessarily in the right places. Alan Kasher, Southwest Executive Vice President of daily flight operations, explained the company’s actions after having to cancel these flights:
“Right now, our Teams are working to protect our Crew network and prevent misconnects – both for our Crews and Customers – that would cause an even greater impact. And Teams are working to determine the best course of action to most quickly reset our network.”
Other Airlines Faced No Issues
The airline also cited the fact that they have reduced the number of scheduled flights this fall. This meant that finding alternative flights for passengers, when they had to cancel one, became more difficult for Southwest. However, it seems that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is disputing part of Southwest’s explanations. The FAA only confirmed having issues before the weekend:
“Flight delays and cancellations occurred for a few hours Friday afternoon due to widespread severe weather, military training and limited staffing in one area of the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center.”
Jacksonville controls traffic in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina. But Southwest had to cancel weekend flights when the FAA stated that they no longer had issues. The FAA did report that some airlines faced problems “…due to aircraft and crews being out of place.” So it seems likely that Southwest had to cancel weekend flights because of disruptions before the weekend.
But some are sceptical about this explanation. On Saturday, American Airlines cancelled just 66 flights or 2% of their schedule. This is not an unusual number. American has a large hub in Miami, Florida, that faced weather issues before the weekend. Also, Spirit Airlines has its base in Florida. It cancelled 32 flights on Saturday or 4% of its schedule.
Southwest – No Employee Actions Cancel Flights
Another theory is that Southwest had to cancel this many flights because of unofficial employee actions. Before the weekend, the airline announced that they would comply with the federal vaccination mandate for all employees. Some unions previously reacted strongly to this, including Southwest’s Airline Pilots Association (SWAPA). However, both the airline and the union denied this theory. SWAPA said in a statement on Saturday:
“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. 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.”
Many credit Southwest as the airline that created the low-cost carrier market. But not everyone realizes how LCCs work. Getting as many flights as possible out of each plane is a big part of these operations. Unfortunately, this also means that when things go wrong, they can go REALLY wrong. Southwest got a taste of this during this summer.
Southwest will likely cancel more flights today (Monday), as they return to normal. This is because of the time and effort it takes to reposition aircraft and crews. As of this writing, they’ve already cancelled 360 or 10% of today’s flights.