Southwest Airlines president: flight disruptions not caused by employee protests

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Flight cancellations and delays at Southwest Airlines (LUV) were not the result of staff protests over vaccination mandates, the airline has declared. 

Making an official apology on October 14, 2021, the airline’s president Michael Van de Ven, who only took up the role in September 2021, said the problems started with ATC and weather disruption, leading to crews being out of place. The problems resulted in over 2,000 flight cancellations and 2,000 delays and prompted speculation that employees had walked out over the carrier’s vaccination mandate. 

“Despite widespread rumors and speculation, the weekend challenges were not a result of unusual Southwest Employee activity, and there simply is nothing in our data that indicates that particular reason,” Van de Ven stated.

On October 12, 2021, the FAA had said that no official reports indicate that Southwest’s flight cancellations were related to vaccine mandates.

Van de Ven began the official statement with an apology: 

“First, let me begin with our heartfelt apology to everyone whose travel was disrupted by these events: we are truly sorry.”

Then the airline president proceeded to explain what transpired over the days which resulted in massive operational disruption. 

“The operational disruption began on Friday and was initially created by weather and air traffic constraints that stalled our Florida operations for many hours. As a result, our aircraft and Crews were not in their pre-planned positions to operate our schedule on Saturday.”

“Unfortunately, the out-of-place aircraft and Crew resources created additional cancelations across our point-to-point network that cascaded throughout the weekend and into Monday and Tuesday. Weather and air traffic constraints were not an issue beyond Friday, but it took us several days to re-set our network after the initial challenges,” Van de Ven continued.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had previously tweeted on October 11, 2021 that no FAA air traffic staffing shortages have been reported since October 8, 2021. 

Van de Ven also offered an explanation as to why no other US airline have been impacted in the same degree as Southwest:

“I’m sure you are curious as to why Friday’s challenges impacted Southwest more than other airlines. For starters, flying to and from Florida is a large portion of our schedule, and disruptions to Florida quickly spread throughout our network given our point-to-point flying. In fact, approximately 40-50% of Southwest’s aircraft fly through Florida on any given day.”  

Southwest’s president also mentioned that hiring more people is part of the airline’s future plans.

“Going forward, our number one focus is to hire more people—with a goal of hiring more than 5,000 by the end of the year and with 50% of the goal already met.”  


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