Thinking About Flying? Think Again.

By Benjamin Sherry | October 21, 2021

Last week, more than 2,000 flights were canceled by Southwest Airlines over the weekend. As the pandemic fades, airlines continue to struggle with labor conditions and hiring as the demand upticks for travel. TSA numbers have illustrated that more than 2 million people are traveling each day, which is a drastic increase from pandemic levels of less than a million. This coupled with the evidence that 5,000 employees have permanently left Southwest and 11,000 are on extended leave, damages the viability of timely flights. Among other main causes of flight cancellations are fatigue, sickness, inclement weather, and a lack of strong management.

The Southwest Airlines Pilot Association, a well-represented union, has expressed concerns over fatigue calls. Due to the extension of hours and trips for understaffed crew members, pilots have become so exhausted that they cannot continue flying, or else they would risk mistakes that could lead to an accident. Over the weekend, these calls more than doubled from 32 to 68 on Sunday. Southwest is beginning to see a major shortage of workers that will only worsen with an overpacked flight schedule. The overbearing amount of hours is leading to an increase in sick workers that is running higher than average for the fall season. Backup crew members are lacking, thus causing more frustration for Southwest and its employees. This, in turn, gives rise to an increase in resignations from the company.

However, Southwest largely blames the inclement weather that resulted in Florida and air traffic control issues for the dramatic weekend. These issues caused reassignment problems as well as displaced crew members that needed several days to resolve. Yet, they cannot ignore the union’s concerns over the labor shortage. Southwest responds by showing data that fewer people are applying to positions such as air-ground control. Although the reasons are unknown, the lack of supply could likely be attributed to stimulus packages and extended unemployment benefits.

Many media outlets have also criticized the mandate of vaccinations by Southwest Airlines. The company and union deny that employees are organizing to protest the mandates. Although this is true, the union has updated its recent lawsuit against Southwest over changing working conditions to include an objection to the mandate. Interestingly enough, Governor Abbott of Texas has declared that no private corporation such as Southwest can issue vaccine mandates. Since Southwest is based in Texas, this would apply to them. However, the federal government is demanding a vaccine mandate for airlines, thus leaving Southwest who receives government subsidies, in a sticky situation.

As travel continues to increase, especially during upcoming holidays, it will be interesting to see how Southwest and other airlines handle the flight schedule. In the end, a better alternative may be to take the family on a road trip.

Sources: TSA checkpoint travel numbers (current year versus prior year(s)/same weekday) | Transportation Security Administration

Southwest Pilots Warn Fatigue, Frustration Could Fuel Further Outages - WSJ

Texas' ban of vaccine mandates puts businesses in a difficult position (