Southwest Has Now Been Canceling Flights for Three Days Straight. Here's Why

Anyone else have a case of deja entendu?

Southwest Airlines Experiences Major Flight Cancellations Across U.S.
Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images

Southwest Airlines celebrated the long weekend by canceling over 2,000 flights, leaving travelers stranded across the country.

If it sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Just two months ago, thousands of passengers suffered through the Spirit Airlines meltdown when they were stranded over multiple days as the airline canceled thousands of flights. In total, the cancelations and delays affected roughly 60 percent of the ultra-low-cost airline’s flights.

While Southwest, which has only canceled around one-third of their flights so far, hasn’t hit as high of a mark as Spirit, the struggle was still felt around the country as thousands of travelers were stranded high and dry over the high-volume holiday weekend. Unfortunately, Southwest’s flight cancelations also decided to make it a three-day weekend as cancelations continued into Monday with around 350 canceled flights—far fewer than over the weekend but still more than any other airline.

So, what gives, why all the cancelations? Initially, Southwest released a statement blaming the cancelations on stormy weather and air traffic control issues. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) seemingly turned to Twitter in their defense, saying, “No FAA air traffic staffing shortages have been reported since Friday. Flight delays & cancellations occurred for a few hours Friday PM due to widespread severe weather, military training, & limited staffing in one area of the Jacksonville en-route center.” The tweet also threw some shade by adding, “Some airlines continue to experience scheduling challenges due to aircraft and crews being out of place.”

Southwest was not the only airline that experienced flight delays and cancellations, though theirs was the most severe. The root cause of the cancellations and delays is likely due to the unexpected surge of three-day weekend travelers. On Thursday, Oct. 7, one day ahead of expected travel spikes for a holiday weekend, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened 500,000 more travelers than the previous day. Likewise, on Friday and Sunday, TSA also reported screening over 2 million passengers.

The rise in passenger numbers coupled with the initial Friday delays brought on by weather and FAA issues may have been the flick on the back of the first domino. For example, a few cancellations due to inclement weather or air traffic control issues could have created a cascade effect of continued flight cancellations. If most flights were full due to increased holiday travel, it would become harder and harder to reschedule all passengers on available flights. The airline’s staffing shortages and complicated scheduling system would exacerbate the problem even more.

There has been chatter that a pilot strike may have also contributed to the cancellations. On Friday, Southwest pilots officially opposed the airline’s imposed vaccine mandate. There was speculation that perhaps they held a walkout or strike; however, both Southwest and pilot union president Casey Murray stated that no strike or sickout occurred.

It may be time to start checking airline stats as we all start finalizing our winter holiday travel plans, just saying.

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