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Southwest Airlines still scrambling, but has fewer flight cancellations

Southwest Airlines, which flies in and out of

Southwest Airlines, which flies in and out of Long Island MacArthur Airport, said bad weather and air traffic control issues in Florida on Friday triggered failures in which planes and pilots were trapped out of position for their next flight. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Southwest Airlines was still scrambling Tuesday to make up from this past weekend's disruptions, but cancellations were not as widespread as in previous days.

More than 700 flights were running late on Tuesday afternoon, according to tracking service FlightAware. Southwest had canceled fewer than 100 flights, or 2%, of its schedule.

Southwest said bad weather and air traffic control issues in Florida on Friday triggered nearly 2,400 flight cancellations over a three-day span. The crisis peaked on Sunday, when Southwest canceled more than 1,100 flights, or 30% of its schedule.

"When you get behind, it just takes several days to catch up," CEO Gary Kelly said Tuesday on CNBC. "We were significantly set behind on Friday."

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, the union representing pilots, blamed weather, staffing issues and the air carrier’s scheduling system for the cancellations.

"Our operation and our front-line employees have endured continuous and unending disruptions since the first time our airline made headlines in early June due to widespread IT failures," Casey Murray, president of the pilots union, said in an emailed statement.

"Our pilots are tired and frustrated because our operation is running on empty due to a lack of support from the company," the statement continued.

The union representing flight attendants said there have been other issues of concern.

"The operational issues Southwest Airlines experienced last weekend that have plagued customers have also added to the complexity of being a flight attendant in today’s climate," Lyn Montgomery, president of TWU Local 556, said in an email to Newsday. "Increased passenger aggression, lack of available food and hotels, and outdated, inconsistent scheduling processes have made the job even more difficult.

"While we continue to demand change from Southwest Airlines, we will continue to follow our obligations under the Railway Labor Act. Our top priority is getting assistance to the flight attendants who were stranded by the recent operational issues," the email said.

Southwest already had trimmed its fall schedule after widespread cancellations and delays over the summer. The airline thought those reductions had helped, but the weekend debacle is causing it to consider further reductions in schedules for November and December.

The flight disruptions began shortly after the union for Southwest's 9,000 pilots asked a federal court to block the airline’s order that all employees get vaccinated against COVID-19. The union argued that Southwest should negotiate terms of such a mandate.

Both Southwest and the union deny that the flight disruptions were due to a protest sickout or slowdown by employees. Kelly and Murray both said absentee rates over the weekend were normal, although they did not provide numbers.

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