Southwest Airlines Operational Meltdown due to Vaccine Mandate?

A pilots union representing thousands of Southwest Airline pilots, has filed a lawsuit against the low-cost carrier, after the airline announced mandatory Covid-19 vaccination requirements.

Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airlines – ©Luke Sobiechowski Travel Radar

The pilot’s association, (SWAPA), claimed that the vaccine mandate is unlawful, and violates the Railway Labor Act. In a recent court filing, SWAPA asked a judge to grant a temporary injunction against the mandate while also asking for an immediate hearing on this request.

Last week, Southwest Airlines announced that all its 56,000 workforces must be full vaccinated against COVID – 19 by December 8th, or face termination. This announcement was released after the US government’s requirement for federal contractors to be vaccinated as the main reason for the mandate, and not offering the option to test regularly instead. This news comes ahead of the reintroduction of international travel for fully vaccinated passengers from the UK and EU.

“Southwest Airlines is a federal contractor and we have no viable choice but to comply with the U.S government mandate for Employees to be vaccinated,  like other airlines, we’re taking steps to comply,” Gary Kelly, chief executive of the Dallas-based airline, told its workforce last week.

According to the SWAPA Lawyers in their legal filing, “the new vaccine mandate unlawfully imposes new conditions of employment and the new policy threatens termination of any pilot not fully vaccinated by December 8, 2021”. The lawyers also stated “Southwest Airlines’ additional new and unilateral modification of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement is in clear violation of the Railway Labor Act.”

Severe Disruption

Southwest Airline was forced to cancel more than 1000 flights over the past weekend, blaming the cancellations on “disruptive weather” and air traffic control issues, which trigger a chain reaction of cancellations nationwide. These cancelations have come days after its pilot’s union have taken legal action against the airline over its COVID – 19 vaccine mandate.

Southwest Fleet
Southwest Airlines has 742 Boeing 737s in their fleet. ©DallasTimes

“We experienced weather challenges in our Florida airports at the beginning of the weekend, challenges that were compounded by unexpected air traffic control issues in the same region, triggering delays and prompting significant cancellations for us beginning Friday evening,” the statement said.

However the FAA tweeted that there had been no air traffic control shortages since Friday.

FAA, Flight delays & cancellations
FAA Tweets their have been no air traffic staffing shortages reported since Friday @FAANews

Passengers were left stranded across the country over the busy, three-day Columbus Day weekend. The total cancellations accounted for around 30 per cent of its US schedule, according to the Flight Aware website, marking the highest cancelation rate of any major US airline over the weekend. Allegiant Air, American Airlines and Spirit only cancelled 4% and 5% of their flights respectively.

“We’ve continued diligent work throughout the weekend to reset our operation with a focus on getting aircraft and crews repositioned to take care of our customers”.

SWAPA said in its own statement that although it was aware of “operational difficulties affecting Southwest Airlines” and it could “say with confidence that our Pilots are not participating in any official or unofficial job actions.”

The union also added: “Our Pilots will continue to overcome (Southwest) management’s poor planning, as well as any external operational challenges, and remain the most productive Pilots in the world.”

What are your thoughts on the mandatory vaccine rules being implemented? Leave your comments below.

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Nadeane Smallwood
Nadeane Smallwood
A recent MSc Air Transport graduate, with a passion for aviation, journalism and creative writing. Nadeane is a London based aviation Journalist, with over ten years experience in various roles across the aviation industry and travelled to over 40 countries.


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