Southwest Pilots Union Says Vaccine Mandate, ‘Sickouts’ Not to Blame for Canceled Flights
The union representing Southwest Airlines pilots disputed allegations that its members held a mass sickout in protest of the company’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Over the weekend and on Oct. 11, Southwest canceled more than 2,000 flights, according to tracking website FlightAware; the airline blamed inclement weather, and an executive claimed that staffing shortages may be to blame. On social media and beyond, there were claims that pilots were engaging in mass “sickouts”—when workers use their sick leave to stay home in a concerted effort to send a message—over the vaccine mandate.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) speculated on Twitter that the cancellations were “Joe Biden’s illegal vaccine mandate at work,” adding that “suddenly, we’re short on pilots [and] air traffic controllers.” Cruz was referring to an executive order mandating vaccines for federal workers and federal contractors. Southwest last week announced it would mandate vaccines for its employees, with some exemptions, as the airline is considered a federal control and has to comply with Biden’s mandate.
But the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) said that federal law doesn’t permit such actions.
“There are false claims of job actions by Southwest Pilots currently gaining traction on social media and making their way into mainstream news. I can say with certainty that there are no work slowdowns or sickouts either related to the recent mandatory vaccine mandate or otherwise,” the group, which filed a lawsuit against Southwest over its vaccine mandate, wrote in a statement on Oct. 10. “SWAPA has not authorized, and will not condone, any job action.”
Instead, SWAPA blamed Southwest for mismanagement. Other airlines, the union said, were able to deal with air-traffic controller issues and poor weather conditions but Southwest wasn’t.
“SWAPA has grave concerns about the direction Southwest Airlines has taken in putting profits ahead of people. Enough is enough. We need leadership, not apologies. We need accountability for those responsible for this months-long debacle,” the union wrote.
Southwest officials didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.
A Southwest spokeswoman told news outlets on Oct. 11 that allegations that the carrier’s vaccine mandate was the cause of the delay were “inaccurate.”
“There’s a lot of unfounded rumor and speculation circulating,” she said.
But in a Twitter post on Oct. 10, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) wrote that air-traffic control issues that were cited by Southwest had cleared up on Oct. 8—before the cancellations occurred.
“No FAA air traffic staffing shortages have been reported since Friday. Flight delays & cancellations occurred for a few hours Friday PM due to widespread severe weather, military training, & limited staffing in one area of the Jacksonville en route center,” the agency wrote on Twitter. Some airlines, it added, are encountering scheduling issues because of crews and aircraft being out of place.
FlightAware data shows that Southwest canceled about 800 flights on Oct. 9, more than 1,000 flights on Oct. 10, and 363 flights on Oct. 11. Hundreds of more flights also were delayed over the weekend.