Southwest Airlines has canceled more than 1,000 flights due to what the Dallas-based company termed “disruptive weather” and air traffic control issues. But rumors abound that rather than a coincidental climate issue coming mere days after a pilot’s union sought to have the COVID vaccine mandate overturned, the disruption to service is a planned “sickout.”
There appears to be a set of competing narratives to explain the flight delays and cancelations that started on Friday, topped more than 800 on Saturday and over 1,000 on Sunday alone. In one corner is Southwest Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and in the other is an apparent lack of people on the ground – or in the air.
Just A Hiccup?
According to the FAA, no “air traffic staffing shortages have been reported since Friday.” And “delays and cancellations occurred for a few hours Friday afternoon due to widespread severe weather, military training, and limited staffing in one area of the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center.” This would certainly explain Friday’s problems. However, now that the continuing issue has spread into the weekend and beyond, the trifecta of military training, weather conditions, and limited staffing in just a single location appears a less likely explanation.
An email purporting to be from Jacksonville Aviation Authority (JAA) Chief Operating Officer Tony Cugno to the board of directors was widely circulated on social media by Jacksonville’s Action News. The text reads:
“A contact at FAA confirmed, they did have some staffing issues at JAX center late Friday, however those staffing issues were due to the following … Normal approved leave … Controllers who received either their first or second dose of the vaccine and by policy are required to stay at home for (48) hours to self-monitor for side effects.”
Sickout Or Not?
A “sickout” is a soft form of industrial action that is usually fired as a warning shot before a more significant disruption occurs. Staff members take their regular sick leave all at the same time to jolt the company into responding. So the JAA chief would be correct in his email that the leave was “normal,” but the reason behind it may not be quite so straightforward.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R) appears to believe the rumors that there is more going on behind the scenes. In a Sunday evening tweet, the lawmaker wrote, “Joe Biden’s illegal vaccine mandate at work! Suddenly, we’re short on pilots & air traffic controllers. #ThanksJoe”
Alex Berenson – formerly of The New York Times – claims to have spoken with a Southwest Airlines pilot, who related:
“… the union cannot organize or even acknowledge the sickout, because doing so would make it an illegal job action. Years ago, Southwest and its pilots had a rough negotiation, and the union would not even let the pilots internally discuss the possibility of working-to-rule (which would have slowed Southwest to a crawl).
“But at the moment the pilots don’t even have to talk to each other about what they’re doing. The anger internally – not just among pilots but other Southwest workers – is enormous. The tough prior negotiations notwithstanding, Southwest has a history of decent labor relations, and workers believe the company should stand up for them against the mandate. Telling pilots in particular to comply or face termination has backfired.”
The protestations of SWA and the FAA have provided at least a fig leaf for President Joe Biden. On Friday, when the delays and cancelations began, the united front appeared to lend credibility to his public argument that mandates were working without significant disruption. Yet as the troubles continue, that narrative is getting harder for many to swallow.
Coupled with the disastrous jobs numbers for September, even those in the Fourth Estate firmly on Team Biden are beginning to wonder if the vaccine mandates may have put a halt on Americans choosing to get back in the workforce after the extended benefits packages expired. As winter approaches and hospitals begin to struggle under the weight of seasonal flu and increased COVID cases, will the mandates prove to be a burden that hospitals, health care facilities, and even airlines just cannot handle?
~ Read more from Mark Angelides.