Nearly a third of Southwest Airlines flights nationwide were delayed or canceled over the weekend and the problems threaten to worsen. Pilots and crew members are engaging in a mass sickout to protest vaccine mandates, alongside at least some air traffic controllers in Jacksonville, Florida. The Federal Aviation Administration is denying that staffing is responsible for the issue.
The area had thunderstorms and wind gusts of over 30 miles per hour for about 60 minutes starting at noon, plus over an inch of rain. Considering Florida’s near tropical climate, that doesn’t stand out as enough to cripple regional air travel by itself.
The issues have not affected Houghton County Memorial Airport (CMX), which is serviced commercially by United Airlines and affiliated regional carriers. That could change if the rest of the transportation industry joins Southwest employees in their protest. Already rumors are flying that Amtrak has had problems staffing trains through the northeast and American Airlines just announced a vaccine mandate last week. Pilots there are warning that they have similar plans to utilize sick leave in an effort to slow down the company’s operations.
As airlines try to ramp up again following the collapse in traffic related to the COVID-19 pandemic, they have already had issues with delays and cancelations throughout the summer. Photos circulated on social media of passengers this weekend left stranded without hotel accommodations, or even blankets as they slept on the floor of the terminal in Jacksonville, and long lines could be seen forming elsewhere, as far away as Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona, a major Southwest hub.
The deadline for United Airlines employees to become compliant with the company’s vaccine mandate has already passed. Around 600 workers, about one percent, are being fired. The company says that it will consider rehiring those who get vaccinated at some point in the future.