In a statement Sunday afternoon Southwest said the cancellations began Friday as a result of weather challenges in Florida airports 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 Federal Aviation Administration confirmed some air traffic control staffing shortages that caused delays Friday out of Florida, but said some airlines are experiencing operational issues due to their own staffing and logistical mishaps.
“Flight 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,” the FAA said in a statement Sunday afternoon. “Some airlines continue to experience scheduling challenges due to aircraft and crews being out of place.”
Southwest said it is working on getting aircraft and crews repositioned to resume normal operations.
“With fewer [flights] between cities in our current schedule, recovering during operational challenges is more difficult and prolonged,” the company said.
While Southwest blamed weather and traffic control issues for the widespread cancellations across its network, no other airline reported similar service disruptions this weekend. American Airlines, for example, had about 63 cancellations as of early Sunday afternoon and United Airlines only had nine.
Staffing shortages caused flight cancellations and delays at Southwest over the summer, and prompted the airline to reduce its schedule to avoid more disruptions. The Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO, which represents airline employees, in July warned that staffing shortages are affecting morale and that some workers report feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.
The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association said in a statement Saturday that while it is aware of the “operational difficulties affecting Southwest Airlines … we can say with confidence that our Pilots are not participating in any official or unofficial job actions.”
The union 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.”
On Saturday, Southwest tweeted that the air traffic control issues and “disruptive weather” had resulted in a high volume of cancellations and asked passengers for patience.
The affected flights were scheduled to fly to and depart from cities across the country, including the airline’s major hubs: Chicago, Denver and Baltimore. Many flights were also canceled in Dallas, where the carrier has its headquarters.
In the Washington region, about 50 departures — 15 percent of flights from Baltimore Washington International Airport — had been canceled Sunday. BWI serves a Southwest’s East Coast hub. An airport spokesman referred questions about the service impacts to Southwest.
A strong storm system is entering the central Plains that may cause a severe thunderstorm outbreak this evening, including tornadoes in Oklahoma, the Capital Weather Gang reported Sunday afternoon. The storm is likely to create more flight disruptions.
Southwest has flexible change policies for travelers affected.
“We know the frustration flight cancellations are creating for our Customers and Employees and we apologize, and we again thank everyone for patience as we work first to be safe, and second to be as quick as possible in solving disrupted plans,” the airline said.
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