Algum 2500 flights between Friday and Tuesday were cancelled due to ‘disruptive weather’ says the airline
A bride said she was forced to have her wedding without family members present after their flights were cancelled as part of the widespread disruptions on Southwest Airlines over the past few days.
The airline has stated that it “resumed normal operations today” but told O Independente it had cancelled some 2500 flights between Friday and Tuesday, due to “disruptive weather” and “air traffic control”, despite no other airlines reporting problems.
But the airline resumed services too little, too late for Chicago newlyweds Kimberli Romano and Kyle Hlavaty, who got married in Nevada on Saturday.
“It’s the most important day of my life thus far and I didn’t have a single family member present at my wedding,” Ms Romano told CBS as her sisters and mother were unable to attend the event in Nevada, when their routes from Chicago were scrapped.
“Three hours before I had to leave to go to the airport, they cancelled my flight out there,” said sister Renee. “All of us were scrambling to even try and get another flight,” Lisa said. They managed to get the parents on a Milwaukee flight, but that too got axed.
The cancelled flights wreaked havoc around the country, leaving thousands stranded. “We extended our deepest apologies to Customers who have been impacted and look forward to welcoming them back on a future Southwest flight,” the company said on Wednesday in a statement.
“The Southwest Team appreciates the patience of customers, and we extend our gratitude to our employees who have worked tirelessly to stabilise our operation,” the company said on Tuesday. “We’ve built a reputation around safe, reliable, friendly air travel, delivered with legendary Southwest Hospitality, and we’re sorry to anyone whose experience did not reflect that over the past several days.”
Southwest cited staffing issues for Saturday’s schedules going awry, which had a knock-on effect on the days following. “On Friday evening, the airline ended the day with numerous cancellations, primarily created by weather and other external constraints, which left aircraft and crews out of pre-planned positions to operate our schedule on Saturday. Infelizmente, the out-of-place aircraft and continued strain on our crew resources created additional cancellations across our point-to-point network that cascaded throughout the weekend and into Monday,” said Southwest in a statement.
Conservative commentators have suggested that pilots and air traffic controllers walked out or called in sick in protest of federal coronavirus vaccine mandates. “Joe Biden’s illegal vaccine mandate at work!” Republican Sen Ted Cruz of Texas tweeted Sunday. "De repente, we’re short on pilots and air traffic controllers. #ThanksJoe.”
The airline has strongly rejected the claim that the cancellations were political, but the theory has still spread like wildfire on social media. “The operational challenges were not a result of Southwest employee demonstrations – nothing in our data points to that as a cause of the disruption,” said the airline in a statement to O Independente.
Twitter users continued to post about airline staff “standing up to medical tyranny” with hashtags including #DoNotComply, #NoVaccineMandate #letsgobrandon (to mean ‘f*** Joe Biden’) in relation to the airline.
The breakdown is the result of ongoing pandemic staff shortages, and the fragility of the travel sector, suggested Southwest COO Mike Van de Ven, who hinted that more disruptions could follow and the airline may need to reduce services over the winter months, including during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, if staffing numbers do not tally up.
“I wish I could tell you that we are out of the woods, but I cannot. The environment for our entire industry remains fragile,” Van de Ven said in a recorded video to employees following cancellations. “We simply need more staffing cushion for the unexpected in this environment and we are bringing new people on board every day.”
The airline has around 7,000 fewer employees than it did before the pandemic. Flight attendants are at a “breaking point”, Lyn Montgomery, president of the Transport Workers Union Southwest, told CNN.
Southwest had offered refunds plus vouchers up to $250 for passengers stranded over the past few days.