The CEO of Southwest on Tuesday denied claims that the federal vaccine mandates were the cause of more than 2,000 flight cancelations in recent days.
During an appearance on CNBC, CEO Gary Kelly was asked about President Joe Biden’s announcement that will mandate companies with federal contracts to require their staff to get the vaccine and whether it was related to delays and cancelations.
“Zero,” Kelly said. “We look at all of our employee behaviors in terms of absenteeism, in terms of people volunteering to come in and pick up what’s referred to as ‘open time,’ and they’re all very normal.”
Kelly then noted that the main pilots union, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, denied that its pilots called in sick en masse in what has been termed a “sickout” over the vaccine mandate. The union last week filed a lawsuit against Southwest over the vaccine mandate.
Some, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), speculated that Biden’s vaccine mandate triggered the delays. According to flight tracker FlightAware, there were about 800 Southwest cancelations on Saturday, 1,000 on Sunday, more than 350 on Monday. On Tuesday, about 89 flights were canceled and 622 flights were delayed across the United States, the website data shows.
“I think people who understand how airlines work—when you get behind it just takes several days to catch up,” Kelly said. “And the fact that we were basically caught up yesterday and today supports the assertion that we’re making here.”
Kelly, however, was critical of Biden’s vaccine mandate, saying he wasn’t in favor of corporations making it a requirement to stay employed.
“I’ve never been in favor of corporations imposing that kind of a mandate. I’m not in favor of that. Never have been,” Kelly explained during the program. “But the executive order from President Biden mandates that all federal employees and then all federal contractors, which covers all the major airlines, have to have a [vaccine] mandate … in place by Dec. 8, so we’re working through that.”
In a Sept. 9 announcement at the White House, Biden said that federal employees, federal contractors, and healthcare staff working at Medicare- or Medicaid-funded hospitals and facilities need to get the vaccine.
Private businesses with 100 or more workers, Biden also said, need to mandate vaccines or have their employees submit to weekly COVID-19 testing, although Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, has yet to provide an update since the president’s announcement on how it will enforce the rule.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order on Monday prohibiting any entity, including businesses, from imposing vaccine mandates on workers or customers.
The headquarters of Southwest Airlines is in Dallas, Texas.
“The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective, and our best defense against the virus, but should remain voluntary and never forced,” Abbott said in a statement. The rule follows several executive orders Abbott issued over the summer banning local governments and school districts from mask or vaccination mandates—with $1,000 fines for those who fail to comply.