In a weekend statement, Southwest Airlines blamed the abnormal rate of cancellations on air traffic control issues and “disruptive weather,” adding that they were working to “recover” the operation.
Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA), which represents some 10,000 pilots, poured cold water on speculation of an ongoing strike, saying on Sunday that the group was “focused on the safety of our crews, passengers, and overcoming operational challenges, not unofficial job actions.”
However, media citing “airline sources” have reported that air traffic controllers were staging a mass “sickout” or walkout at the federal air traffic control center in Hilliard, Florida over mandatory vaccinations. The reported protest caused a “ripple effect” paralyzing Southwest Airlines‘ operations.
Responding to the rumors of a mass walkout on Sunday afternoon, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) dismissed the report, insisting that “no FAA air traffic staffing shortages have been reported since Friday.”
Jacksonville Aviation Authority Chief Operating Officer Tony Cugno reportedly sent an email to the JAA board of directors, pinning the blame for the havoc on some employees taking their “normal approved leaves” and controllers having to stay at home for 48 hours after receiving their COVID-19 vaccine shot.
SouthWest Airlines became one of the last major US air carriers to introduce a vaccine mandate for its employees last Monday. Some 56,000 Southwest employees have until December 8 to get vaccinated if they want to keep their jobs.