There’s no evidence from Southwest Airlines, its pilots union or federal regulators that the mass cancellations that rocked its passengers over the past four days were related to the company’s recently announced vaccine mandate, the Federal Aviation Administration insisted.
“To be clear: None of the information from Southwest, its pilots union, or the FAA indicates that this weekend’s cancellations were related to vaccine mandates,” the agency tweeted Monday evening.
The world’s largest low-cost carrier saw disruptions over the weekend that forced it to ground more than 25 percent of its scheduled flights and another 10 percent on Monday.
The timing of the mass cancellation, which came after the airline announced last week that it would require all of its employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, sparked speculation over whether the disruption was related to the mandate.
Employees have until Dec. 8 to get vaccinated or face termination. The Dallas, Texas-based airline has approximately 56,000 employees.
And on Friday, just before the cancellations began, the union that represents Southwest’s pilots asked a court to temporarily block the company from implementing its vaccine mandate, further stoking speculation about a so-called “sick-out” protest.
But the FAA has now joined with the company as well as the union to insist that the nationwide cancellations and delays were sparked by weather issues in Florida, compounded by air traffic control issues in the surrounding area, triggering a chain reaction of cancellations through the weekend and Monday.
“The weekend challenges were not a result of Employee demonstrations,” a spokesperson for Southwest said Monday, adding that weather issues in Florida led to “displaced Crews and aircrafts.”
A spokesperson added in an email to CNBC that the speculation over a link between the cancellations and the vaccine mandate is “inaccurate.”
“There’s a lot of unfounded rumor and speculation circulating,” the company told the outlet.
In addition, the 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.”
“We can say with confidence that our pilots are not participating in any official or unofficial job actions,” the union said in a statement.
Still, the timing of the cancellations led travel industry insiders as well as politicians to speculate that the mandate could have been 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.
US Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) directly blamed President Biden’s vaccine mandate.
“Joe Biden’s illegal vaccine mandate at work!” he tweeted Sunday. “Suddenly, we’re short on pilots & air traffic controllers.”
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