Southwest new CEO denies walk-off rumors, defends pilots amid schedule meltdown
Southwest Airlines canceled more than 1,800 flights over the weekend as it suffered a disastrous operational meltdown. Still, reports quickly spread this during the weekend claiming that Southwest pilots and other staffers were walking off the job in a "Sick-out" to protest the looming vaccination mandate, which Southwest plans to implement in order to comply with the federal executive order requiring all employees at large businesses and federal contractors to be vaccinated. The Southwest Airline Pilots Association, the union representing pilots at the airline, similarly denied there was a job action - official or otherwise. Jordan said it was particularly the line-flow system that Southwest uses as part of a point-to-point network that made it harder for Southwest to recover than other airlines with heavy exposure in Florida, such as American, which has a hub in Miami as part of its hub-and-spoke network. The operational issue - and the reasons Jordan listed for Southwest being the only airline impacted - bore remarkable similarities to the summer meltdown experienced by Spirit Airlines in August, when the airline was forced to cancel more than 2,000 flights as it tried to reset its network following a series of disruptions. Southwest has operated with little margin for error all summer as it filled its schedule to capacity to try and take advantage of returning travel demand, despite having lost about 630 pilots to buyouts and early retirements during the early days of the pandemic - about 6% to 7% of its total pilot workforce, as pointed out by Jon Ostrower of The Air Current. That's caused Southwest to face delays all summer, leaving it particularly vulnerable to disruptions, such as the storms Friday that helped lead to the latest schedule crisis at Southwest.