Southwest Airlines canceled hundreds more flights Monday after the airline was forced to ground nearly 2,000 flights over the weekend.
The world’s largest low-cost carrier canceled almost 350 flights — or one in ten scheduled departures — as of Monday at 7 a.m. ET, according to data from Flight Aware. That marks the highest cancellation rate of any major US airline by far, according to the site.
Almost 200 more Southwest flights were facing delays, the site’s data showed.
The airline’s latest woes come after it had to ground more than 25 percent of its scheduled flights on Sunday.
The company has blamed the cancelations on weather issues in Florida compounded by air traffic issues in the surrounding area, triggering a chain reaction of cancellations nationwide.
But the Federal Aviation Administration insisted there were only a “few hours” of flight delays on Friday afternoon due to weather and staffing issues at traffic control centers.
“No FAA air traffic staffing shortages have been reported since Friday,” the FAA said in a statement. “Some airlines continue to experience scheduling challenges due to aircraft and crews being out of place. Please contact the airlines for details about current flight schedules.”
The mass cancelations and delays on the busy Columbus Day weekend come after the airline announced last week that it would require all of its employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, as called for by President Joe Biden earlier this year.
Employees must get vaccinated before Dec. 8 or face termination. The Dallas, TX-based airline has approximately 56,000 employees.
The timing of the cancelations sparked speculation by travel industry insiders and politicians that the mandate could be exacerbating issues at the airline.
Henry H. Harteveldt, president of Atmosphere Research Group, told The Associated Press that Southwest’s issues could be tied to pilots engaging in a sickout protest against the airline’s mandate.
But Harteveldt also noted the airline has scheduled more flights than it could handle since June.
Texas senator Ted Cruz directly blamed Biden’s vaccine mandate.
“Joe Biden’s illegal vaccine mandate at work!” he tweeted Sunday. “Suddenly, we’re short on pilots & air traffic controllers.”
A Southwest spokesperson, however, said in an email to CNBC that the speculation is “inaccurate.”
“There’s a lot of unfounded rumor and speculation circulating,” the company told the outlet.
In addition, Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, the labor union that represents the airline’s pilots, insisted the issues are not related to the vaccine order and instead are due to management’s “poor planning.”
“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 in a statement.
— Additional reporting by Patrick Reilly
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