Southwest Airlines Is Dumping A Quarter Of Its Flights, And Not Being Honest About Why

Southwest Airlines cancelled a quarter of its flights this weekend.

  • Today they have cancelled over 1000 flights. The next highest total for a US airline is American Airlines with 63 as of this writing. United has cancelled 9 and Delta has cancelled 3.

The airline blames weather and air traffic control. That’s simply not plausible, though they did have some issues coming out of Florida and the Northeast (where other airlines weren’t similarly affected).

  • The cancellations aren’t focused on a single region of the country, or even a single Southwest hub, but are across the system. Anywhere Southwest has a significant operation is one of the airports with the most cancellations in the country. And the FAA is calling them out.

There’s a rumor of a pilot job action protesting the carrier’s announced vaccination requirement (after it was pressured by the President to impose one).

  • Several employees are telling customers this is the reason for the operational meltdown (that is also causing massive delays). The pilots union also sued on Friday to stop the mandate, arguing that it’s something that has to be implemented through collective bargaining.

The pilots union says there is no such thing happening.

  • Of course they would say that, though, because any pilot job action would be illegal under the Railway Labor Act.

Southwest had operations meltdowns at the end of June. There they blamed weather, too. But they also had a shortage of crew. As before there’s more here than Southwest Airlines is admitting to.

After cancelling a couple of thousand flights, and delaying hundreds more, the lives of tens of thousands of passengers are being thrown into disarray. People are missing important life events, and this is not just ‘air traffic control and weather’, i.e. ‘things outside of the airline’s control that they cannot be blamed for.’

If your Southwest Airlines flight is cancelled or severely delayed, you’re entitled to a refund. Check other airlines to see whether a new ticket might get you where you’re going at reasonable cost. And don’t forget credit card trip delay coverage if you’re stranded somewhere for long enough, such as overnight, if the card you used to purchase your tickets offers it.

Remember, you’re on your own out there.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Yeehaw! My pointless mandates sure are stirring up some trouble! Hopefully all this squabbling will distract people from the facts that I’m senile, unhealthy, can’t answer basic questions about my actions in interviews, and ramble randomly when Dr. Jill forgets the meds.

  2. Glad you finally started a dedicated topic on the subject.
    It’s also worth noting that WN employees say they have been pushed to the limit trying to operate the published schedule earlier this summer. WN’s on-time and cancellation rates have suffered. Even if there are not concerted efforts by WN employees, the airline is stretched incredibly thin.

    The chances are high that WN employees are acting out in some way and the irony is that WN has long tried to position itself as the economic liberator of the country to the big legacy carriers.

    Like AA, WN has not been upfront w/ its rates of vaccination and there is good reason to believe WN’s vaccination rates are well below the rest of the industry.

    Labor relations have long been a WN strength but that might be changing dramatically. In all kinds of institutions around the world, covid has become a turning point in survival and culture of organizations that many organizations simply cannot avoid and many will never be able to go back to what they were before.

    If WN, a high profile public company, suffers from mass walkouts and crippling of service which is the employees’ way of saving they aren’t going to allow their company to kneel before Presidential edits, then you can bet there will be many more companies throughout the US in all sectors that will face similar if not worse outcomes.

    Covid has become one of the most divisive events in modern history. How it is handled and not the disease itself now has the potential to disrupt if not destroy some organizations. Nobody should be happy about what we are seeing.

  3. WN is lying so they dont have to compensate customers. Shameless! Good on the pilots for standing up for themselves and refusing this mandate nonsense for a vaccine that is far from useful. Does NOT keep anyone from spreading C19 and does NOT keep anyone from catching C19. Yet they want to require it for employment. WAKE UP!

  4. @James is 100% wrong. Vaccines have saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives already. It is time to crack down on those who are perpetuating the COVID catastrophe. Enough coddling, tolerating, pleading and cajoling. They need to be stopped. Short term there will be some scattered disruptions as some fanatics act out, but in the long run we all win when life can get back to normal. Good for Joe Biden (whom I disagree with on plenty of other issues).

  5. I am in Cabo San Lucas Airport today, Sunday, October 10/10/21. Flying another major airline. SWA has canceled everything outbound to the USA. Spirit has also canceled. Passengers cannot even checkin for canceled flights. Not allowed to go through security. They have no money, no reservations, no hotels, no solutions. They will be stuck for days. Hopeless situation. SWA and Spirit are not being transparent. Bet the pilots called in sick to protest vaxx. My humble opinion. Thousands of passengers stuck in Mexico. Good grief. The USA is a 3rd world operation….not Mexico!

  6. The people who are flying are largely being reckless, even if they are vaccinated. Some have truly essential travel but a lot is just vacation over Columbus Day weekend, mindless that there is a pandemic going on.

    Gary, being a writer, has some reason to travel, but many of us are just being stupid. There must be other things that can be done in relative isolation, which would help fewer people dying from Covid-19. Many people’s immunity is wearing out as they got the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine. That is BioNTech’s fault—–sue, sue, sue… that part I am kidding. But do not be overconfident if you got the Pfizer BNT vaccine.

  7. GF’s SW flight from Little Rock to Love Field yesterday was delayed. Got to Love in time to connect to Burbank flight because it was also delayed but they’d sold her seat out from under her. “We didn’t think you (flying on our metal) were going to make it. So we sold your seat. But no worries, we can still get you to Burbank — two days from now. And no, you’re not getting a hotel voucher. Good luck finding a hotel anyway”

  8. A small part of WN’s problem is that the east (busiest) runway at DAL is being rebuilt and is out of service until February. This has caused flow control arrival and departure delays beginning in the mid-afternoon.

    Sunday @5:00 pm: Dallas Love Field is experiencing delays
    inbound flights delayed at their origin an average of 1 hours 17 minutes
    arrival delays for airborne aircraft an average of 41 minutes

  9. How did UA have such a relatively smooth go of things with their vaccine requirement? You’d think as the first airline they would have had the most issues.

  10. My brother is an epidemiologist, adjunct research professor at UNM, earned his PhD at Johns Hopkins, he’s my expert source on Covid. People like James who post nonsensical gibberish on topics they know literally nothing about, are one of the reasons this virus continues to spread. On the topic of WN, I’m a retired air traffic controller, airlines blame ATC frequently for delays that FAA is is in fact not responsible for.

  11. @Mark Athas I’d trust the expert epidemiologists like the folks at the CDC more if 1) they had complied with basic lab protocol and developed a working test for COVID early last year and 2) carefully developed and communicated a consistent, effective strategy rather than alternating among dictating arbitrary guidelines (6-foot social distancing), panicky fear-mongering, and then sounding the all clear. The United States is full of so-called experts with fancy degrees who routinely get things wrong. I trust people who provide clear explanations (as Feynman said, if you can’t explain it to a high school student, you don’t understand it), as opposed to those who pontificate and point at their PhDs.

  12. JAX center went down because the controllers walked off protesting the mandate.

    It’s not just pilots, it’s other crew and employees calling in at SWA.

    I’m pro-vax but there is really no legal grounds for Biden’s mandate. Absolutely none. OSHA cannot mandate vaccines and in the one Supreme Court case that was held regarding the issue there was a small fine levied at a local, not federal, level. A huge distinction to what POTUS is doing.

    Honestly at this point what else can be mandated? No more smoking? No eat trans fat? No soda? See where this is going? Nowhere good.

  13. It’s so sad to see a once-great airline morphing into a smaller clone of the “Big 3” airlines.

  14. Southwest, Frontier and Spirit. When they work, they’re fine. When they don’t you are on your own. That’s why I stopped flying them. Also part of the reason I fly in F, especially on airlines where I don’t have status. For IRROPs, those help. A lot.

  15. @Let’s go Brandon – that doesn’t explain Southwest dumping a quarter of its schedule on Saturday and Sunday (and JAX Center disputes the story)

    I agree with you on the anticipated OSHA mandate under emergency rulemaking procedures. That’s not at issue here. The President said he’d seek to make changes to CRAF subsidies going forward to require vaccination. It’s not clear that’s legally problematic.

  16. @Let’s go Brandon “JAX center went down because the controllers walked off protesting the mandate.”

    Nope, not an ounce of truth in your statement.

    “Jacksonville Aviation Authority COO Tony Cugno [sent a letter to] the Board of Directors that refutes the rumor of an organized walkout by controllers regarding the vaccination mandate.”

  17. You won’t find a bigger CDC critic than my brother Larry. And he worked there briefly early in his career.

  18. @Dom buddy’s wife is a center controller there, there was a large uptick in sick calls, call it what you want.

  19. Yeah, SWA does not seem like a stable airline at the moment.
    Nice job writing this up Gary, you presented the rumor and then sourced if it was true or not.
    Nice job!

    Um, I’ll go with Mark Athas’ brothers advice. See, I believe in science and our scientists.
    Fight through the political fog and just listen to the scientists what they are saying now.
    Science evolves and I never hold it over their heads if their advice changes as more information is revealed. That is in fact the way it is supposed to work.

  20. Don’t worry folks, Corn Pop and I will take over the controls and fly you to your final destinations. I drove a big rig so it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out how to fly this big bird.

  21. This is fun watching people who have no expertise argue over vaccines. Does anyone want to spring for popcorn ?

  22. You got ALL of the facts? Amazing!!!! CNN has Nancy Grace. Fox News has Maria Bartiromo. Travel blogs has Gary (Left/wRight) leff.
    Amazing world we live in today!!

  23. Does anyone truly believe that WN doesn’t currently have an unusually large number of healthy employees calling in sick?

  24. There are plenty of websites out there that allow you to replay air traffic over the US for the last week. There is no shortage of planes over Florida. There is only one airline cancelling 25% of their flights. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out it’s not air traffic control. And anyone who says it is is either lying or having a mental episode, natural or induced, take your pick.

  25. I’m flying Southwest tomorrow out of DAL and I’m dreading it. Forecast bad weather today and tomorrow – and a 10:30 PM scheduled arrival at destination. Sunday night my selected flight landed at 1:30 AM – past which time the rental car counters will have closed. Happened to me once before. My rental car reservation was cancelled, had to make a new one the next day for several hundred dollars more. Airlines need to be held financially responsible to some degree (even if not 100%) when their own labor issues or overscheduling available resources (pilots, FAs, aircraft) incur financial costs to passengers. The EU has such a passenger compensation requirement for carrier-controllable delays and overbooking.

  26. If we, USA travellers, were extended the same protections that European travellers are by their airlines, it would put a stop to such lying as Southwest has/is doing. I experienced a similar flight delay a few years ago that SW blamed on weather, but I was staying at the same Chicago hotel that SW pilots stayed at and overhead a conversation in the elevator that it was due to maintenance working taking planes out of service for “unscheduled” maintenance! How can a company be allowed to skirt around the truth–in order to avoid compensating passengers.

  27. To deny the effectiveness of the vaccines is simply untrue and irresponsible. Because you can’t see the virus does not mean it doesn’t exist.
    How many “non believers” on their death bed state they made a critical mistake. The rest of the world is laughing at you conspiracy theorists.

    Let’s break down southwest’s disruption.
    Trips are optimized to work the crew to their limits. If your duty day is on the verge of the limits, safety takes priority and the crew stand down (wherever they are) this is not planned or predictable. The crew are now not where they should be with is the aircraft. That says routing stops. Average length of a flight is sub 3 hours. 1 Southwest’s aircraft fly’s an average of 15 hours or 5 flights per day. Last time I checked Southwest has 740 aircrafts.
    Friday ~ 1000 flights cancelled = 200 aircrafts affected by crew in wrong place because of the aforementioned reason. Aircraft in the wrong city, again aforementioned reason.
    Saturday – 300 flights cancelled, knock on from crew and aircraft in wrong place
    For any hi density airline – weather, crew, mechanicals take 3 to 4 days to catch up from a disruption.
    Is Covid a reason? yes to an extent. They are just ramping up crew who require extensive retraining after being off line for the past year. That’s a reg.
    Aircrafts that would have normally subbed in to recover the network disruption simply don’t have trained crew to operate.

  28. American Airlines is consistently the WORST for delays and cancellations. Adverse Weather, FAA, Air traffic restrictions… common excuses used by Airlines to avoid refunding your $$$.
    The airlines are solely responsible for the situation we are in. They overbooked flights, furloughed critical staff (pilots, attendants baggage handlers and ground crews) and waited too long to recall them. The majority of those furloughed employees have found other employment, gone back to school to better their careers or are content to collect the enhanced unemployment cash. Pilots have lost their certifications due to lack of hours and the flight schools have a waiting list. AA has a standing $150k sign on bonus for certified pilots how join them and still cannot meet demand.

  29. @Older lady–So you believe “in science”? You believe everything the so called scientists and Doctors say? Show me one unbiased scientific STUDY that supports wither the “mask wearing” mandate OR
    “social distancing” so far there are only OPINIONS and NOT studies. I would love to see STUDIES and NOT opinions. I will read any STUDIES presented and make my own decision. Btw, I have been vaccinated THREE times. I have always taken the vaccines as I believe they are safe. Other people can make up their own mind.

  30. @John M It is the AMOUNT of effectiveness that is the point. It does NOT stop the spread as even vaccinated you can spread it. It does NOT keep the vaccinated person from getting covid as you can still get it. I know a number of vaccinated people who have come down with covid. My sister-in-law is one, another is a friend’s father who, four months after being vaccinated, caught and died of covid. Those “non-believers” aren’t denying the virus, but its severity. From the time the morons stated it came from bats in a meat market rather than admit it came from a lab that was funded with US taxpayer dollars, they have not been honest, politicized it, stepped into the medical industry where they don’t belong, and forced people to endure loss of work through mandates and forced medical care while literally interfering with medical care between doctors and their patients.

    While you say ” The rest of the world is laughing at you conspiracy theorists”, you prove you have not paid any attention at all to what is going on in those other parts of the world. Paris and other areas of France have protests against the vaccine and mandates as does Germany, and many other countries. Maybe you should actually KNOW what the world thinks before speaking for them.

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