Southwest Airline’s president is continuing to blame the air carrier’s mass cancellations on bad weather and air traffic constraints.
Mike Van de Ven, also the company’s chief operating officer, said the logistical nightmare began to unravel last Friday when Southwest’s Florida operations were halted.
Friday’s troubles snowballed into Saturday’s operations, he said, and continued to cascade as employees scrambled to play catch up.
Irate passengers were forced to spend the long weekend sleeping on airport floors and waiting on hold for hours after the Dallas-based airline cancelled more than 2,300 flights.
‘Weather and air traffic constraints were not an issue beyond Friday, but it took us several days to re-set our network after the initial challenges,’ Van de Ven said in a statement.
The executive’s reasoning for cancelling thousands of flights contradicts speculation that Southwest’s pilots participated in a weekend strike to boycott the company’s vaccine mandate.
‘Despite widespread rumors and speculation, the weekend challenges were not a result of unusual Southwest employee activity, and there simply is nothing in our data that indicates that particular reason,’ Van de Ven said.
‘Our employees worked heroically in the midst of these adverse conditions and many came in on off days, or flew additional trips, to help the airline recover.’
Many passengers said they found it peculiar that other major air carriers weren’t brought down by the so-called weather and air traffic control problems.
Southwest is rare among large airlines in that it uses the old-fashioned, point-to-point ‘linear’ route system that takes people short distances with few connecting flights. The airline offers very few non-stop flights on longer routes. The system leaves crews and aircraft in many different areas, making it harder to recover from any delay.
‘I’m sure you are curious as to why Friday’s challenges impacted Southwest more than other airlines,’ Van de Ven said. ‘For starters, flying to and from Florida is a large portion of our schedule, and disruptions to Florida quickly spread throughout our network given our point-to-point flying.’
He said 40- to 50percent of Southwest’s plans travel to Florida daily, added that one-in-four crew assignments include at least one stop in The Sunshine State.
‘One of our largest crew bases is at Orlando International Airport, and that airport was shut to departing and arriving air traffic for approximately seven hours on Friday—preventing the flow of aircraft and crews into the network,’ Van de Ven said.
As the airline continues to do damage control, it’s sending out vouchers at varying amounts to affected passengers.
But some disgruntled passengers are refusing the certificates.
‘I do not want $150 voucher,’ said one Twitter user. ‘I want to be reimbursed full airfare and my non-refundable hotel expenses that went unused because of Southwest’s blunders and my unused park tickets for Magic Kingdom and Universal also non refundable.
‘$150 travel voucher is a joke.’
Added another: ‘Southwest is killing me… gave me vouchers but I just want my money back.’
Southwest’s president said the company’s focus is now on hiring more people.
Its goal is to hire more than 5,000 employees by the end of the year, said Van de Ven.
‘Additionally, we continue to evaluate potential network schedule changes to mitigate operational risks as we head into the holidays,’ he said.
‘There is certainly more work to be done as we approach November, and our teams are dedicated to doing that work to support a reliable operation.’
According to government statistics, the airline employed 62,000 workers pre-COVID – eight thousand more than the 54,000 employees who worked there as of August 2021.
The head of Southwest’s pilots union, Capt. Casey Murray, blamed the company’s management for the snafu and denied that pilots were calling out sick en masse to protest the vaccine mandate.
Murray told CBS News that the pilot sick rate was ‘right in line with what was occurring this summer.’