Southwest cancels more than 1,000 flights over weekend

Southwest Airlines canceled more than 1,000 flights on Sunday, stranding outraged passengers across the country on a busy three-day Columbus Day weekend due to air traffic control and weather issues, the airline said.

The total cancellations accounted for 28 percent of the airline’s flights as of 5 p.m. Sunday, marking the highest cancellation rate of any major US airline by far, according to Flight Aware. Allegiant and Spirit, which had canceled 5 percent and 4 percent, respectively, are next in line.

Southwest said it had experienced weather issues out of Florida at the beginning of the weekend, compounded by air traffic issues in the surrounding area, triggering a chain reaction of cancellations nationwide.

“We’ve continued diligent work throughout the weekend to reset our operation with a focus on getting aircraft and crews repositioned to take care of our customers,” said Southwest Airlines in a statement Sunday. “With fewer frequencies between cities in our current schedule, recovering during operational challenges is more difficult and prolonged.”

The airline first announced the operational issues in a tweet on Saturday.

Henry H. Harteveldt, president and travel industry analyst at the Atmosphere Research Group, told the Associated Press that Southwest’s issues could be tied to pilots engaging in a sickout against the airline’s recently announced mask mandate for all staff. 

Harteveldt also noted the airline has scheduled more flights than it could handle since June.

Southwest had announced on Oct. 4 that it would comply with federal regulations and require all of its employees to be vaccinated.

Employees must get vaccinated before Dec. 8 or face termination. The Southern-based airline has approximately 56,000 employees.

The Southwest Airlines Pilot Union responded to what it called “operational difficulties” on Saturday, denying it was caused by any formal or informal organization of its employees.

“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,” the union said.

“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. SWAPA Pilots are true professionals and will always maintain the highest level of responsibility to their crews, their passengers, and our airline.”

With Post wires