Southwest cancels thousands of flights, leading to chaos at airports

From Los Angeles to Miami, Dallas to Denver, thousands of Southwest customers had weekend travel plans ruined by more than 2,000 flight cancelations. The airline canceled another 10% of flights on Monday.

It’s not clear what is causing the disruption as the airline and its pilots are telling different stories. The delays and cancelations began shortly after the pilot’s union tried to block Southwest’s new COVID-19 vaccine mandate. 

Lines were long and tempers short at airports in several cities, as passengers were forced to wait hours, and in some cases, days to rebook on other flights.

The company on Monday offered a “tremendous apology” to customers and employees, citing weather and external constraints.

Captain Cassey Murray, president of the Southwest pilots’ union, insists the disruptions were not caused by pilots protesting the pending vaccine mandate. He told CBS News that the airline’s pilot sick rate for this weekend was “right in line with what was occurring this summer.”

But Murray did acknowledge the union is suing the airline over its policy.

“The problem is not meeting months ago and addressing these insurance issues — addressing our pilot medicals,” he said. “All the airlines have the same issues we do today, but they’ve mitigated it by having agreements in place, and they are a lot further along than we are.”

Southwest stood out among airlines because other carriers had nowhere near its rate of cancelations.

“We have a temporary restraining order that is trying to get them to stop the mandate so that we can sit down and discuss and provide some support for our pilots so that they can understand and make a decision to get vaccinated with that understanding behind them,” Murray added.  

Some stranded passengers hit the road to get home.

Julianne Mattox attended a wedding in Austin, Texas, with two friends. Before Southwest canceled their Sunday flight back to Washington, D.C., offering Wednesday instead.

“The general consensus among everyone was it’s easier to rent a car and just get out of town to start moving, rather than waiting until Tuesday or Wednesday to even potentially get a flight,” she said.

The trio made it safely home, after spending 25 hours driving 1,500 miles. 

Murray said the union is currently negotiating with Southwest over its upcoming vaccine mandate, and he expects to find a workable resolution eventually.

But, he said he’s unsure if that will happen by the December 8 deadline — maybe not even before Thanksgiving.