CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Southwest Airlines has canceled or delayed thousands of flights, leaving customers stranded after a weekend plagued with major service disruptions.

More than 1,900 flights were canceled by the airline over the weekend, according to the online tracker FlightAware. The Dallas-based airline blamed air traffic control issues and bad weather for weekend “operational challenges” that resulted in the cancellations. On Monday, Southwest canceled more than 430 flights and delayed 1,517 flights.

By early Tuesday morning, Southwest had canceled about 90 flights and more than 190 others were delayed.


Southwest cancels thousands of flights nationwide, blames woes on air traffic control issues and weather

But what exactly is going on? Why did one of the nation’s biggest airlines face such major delays, stranding millions? Here’s what we know:

What is Southwest saying about the cancellations?

Southwest has blamed air traffic control issues and bad weather for the “operational challenges” that resulted in the weekend cancellations.

Southwest issued a statement to NewsNation on Monday afternoon, saying that while the flight schedule was “closer to normal,” they were still navigating new weather issues and the repercussions of the weekend flight disruptions.

Southwest Airlines extends a tremendous apology to our Customers and Employees for the flight cancellations and delays which occurred over the weekend and on Monday.

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. Unfortunately, the out-of-place aircraft and continued strain on our Crew resources created additional cancelations across our point-to-point network that cascaded throughout the weekend and into Monday.

Southwest Teams have been working diligently to restore stability to the network, and we are experiencing less disruptions on Monday. We hope to restore our full schedule as soon as possible. As a note, the operational challenges were not a result of Southwest Employee demonstrations.

To every Customer that experienced a cancellation or delay, Southwest offers our sincerest regret regarding disrupted travel plans, and we look forward to a future opportunity to demonstrate our safe, reliable, friendly, and legendary Southwest Hospitality – something that Customers should always expect from Southwest Airlines. 

SOUTHWEST STATEMENT

What is the Federal Aviation Administration saying?

The FAA, which provides air traffic control services, took the unusual step of pushing back against Southwest’s explanation. 


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The FAA said no air traffic staffing shortages had been reported since Friday but that some airlines were experiencing scheduling challenges due to aircraft and crews being out of place.

Have COVID-19 vaccination policies played a role?

Southwest announced last week that its employees must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8 to keep their jobs. Workers can ask to skip the shots for medical or religious reasons.

Rumors circulated over the weekend that employees had staged a massive “sickout” in protest of Southwest’s new policy. Southwest disputed those rumors Monday morning.

Southwest had remained silent on the vaccination requirements even after President Joe Biden announced his vaccine mandate order for federal contractors and large employers. United Airlines was the first major U.S. carrier to announce a vaccination requirement in August.

Unclaimed baggages wells up between carousels for passengers arriving on Southwest Airlines flights at Denver International Airport late Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Denver. Southwest Airlines canceled hundreds of flights over the weekend, blaming the woes on air traffic control issues and weather. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)Unclaimed baggages wells up between carousels for passengers arriving on Southwest Airlines flights at Denver International Airport late Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Denver. Southwest Airlines canceled hundreds of flights over the weekend, blaming the woes on air traffic control issues and weather. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)Passengers queue up at the ticketing counter for Southwest Airlines Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Eppley Airfield in Omaha, Neb. Southwest Airlines canceled hundreds of flights over the weekend, blaming the woes on air traffic control issues and weather. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)Passengers queue up at the ticketing counter for Southwest Airlines flights in Eppley Airfield Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Omaha, Neb. Southwest Airlines canceled hundreds of flights over the weekend, blaming the woes on air traffic control issues and weather. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)A Southwest Airlines jetliner taxis down a runway for take off from Denver International Airport Friday, July 2, 2021, in Denver. Southwest Airlines canceled hundreds more flights Monday, Oct. 11, 2021 following a weekend of major service disruptions. By midmorning Monday, Southwest had canceled about 360 flights and more than 600 others were delayed. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA – OCTOBER 11: Passenger wait in-line in front of Southwest Airlines counters at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on October 11, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia. Southwest has canceled more than 2,000 flights over the weekend and the disruption continued into Monday with a few hundred flights have been canceled so far. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)In this frame grab from cellphone video, passengers look for information on their flights, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, at Dallas Love Field. Southwest Airlines canceled hundreds of flights over the weekend, blaming the woes on air traffic control issues and weather. (AP Photo/Julie March)
What is a sickout?

A sickout is an organized period of sick leave taken by a group as a form of protest.

What are the unions saying about the vaccination rumors?

As the scope of Southwest’s operational meltdown became clear, the pilots’ union denied reports that pilots were conducting a sickout or slowdown to protest the vaccine mandate. The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association said it was “aware of operational difficulties” but it “has not authorized, and will not condone, any job action.”


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The union offered another explanation for the delays: It said Southwest’s operation “has become brittle and subject to massive failures under the slightest pressure” because of a lack of support from the company. The union complained about the “already strained relationship” between it and the company.

The union said last week it would file a temporary restraining order to stop Southwest from instituting the vaccine mandate.

The president of the Southwest pilots union said during a Monday appearance on “On Balance with Leland Vittert” that the numbers back him up: There was no sickout.

“Looking at our pilot pickup rates, meaning working on their off days picking up extra time, it is almost at an all-time high,” Capt. Casey Murray said. He added that sick time hours were on par with a typical weekend.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents more than 24,000 of rival American Airlines flight attendants, weighed in on the situation.

“While APFA believes vaccination is our best defense against illness or death from COVID-19, we fully recognize that some of our members have very strong concerns or beliefs regarding the COVID-19 vaccination,” APFA said in a statement to NewsNation. “While being vaccinated is not open to negotiation with management, we will make sure the company abides by the Executive Orders and the applicable reasonable accommodation provisions.”

Have other airlines canceled flights?

Southwest was the only airline to report delay issues on a major scale.


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What was the weather like?

A severe weather system hit Oklahoma late Sunday night, bringing heavy rain, lightning and wind to parts of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Texas.

Has Southwest canceled flights like this before?

Southwest had struggled all summer with high numbers of delayed and canceled flights. In August, it announced it was trimming its September schedule by 27 flights a day, or less than 1%, and 162 flights a day, or 4.5% of the schedule, from early October through Nov. 5.

This story is developing. Refresh for updates.

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