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Cancellations continue to disrupt travel on Southwest Airlines

Updated October 11, 2021 - 6:27 pm

Southwest Airlines’ flight cancellations continued to impact travelers heading to and leaving Las Vegas on Monday morning.

The website Flightview showed at least 13 flights scheduled to arrive in Las Vegas Monday between 7:30 a.m. and noon were canceled. Cancellations appeared to be impacting departing flights as well. The website showed nine Southwest flights scheduled to depart Las Vegas were canceled.

McCarran International Airport spokesman Joe Rajchel said the airport had different numbers than Flightview as far as the number of Southwest flights canceled.

“There have been about 17 cancellations here locally,” Rajchel said. “My understanding is we are seeing the situation improve locally.”

Rajchel said passengers should be checking the status of their flights before heading to the airport.

“You don’t want to be dealing with this if you can do it from your home or wherever you are staying … instead of being (at the airport) and trying to get it done,” Rajchel said. “We know it is frustrating and we appreciate all the patience people have shown so far.”

Southwest Airlines canceled hundreds of flights over the weekend, blaming the woes on air traffic control issues and weather, the Associated Press reported.

The airline canceled more than 1,000 flights, or 28 percent of its schedule, as of Sunday afternoon, according to flight tracker FlightAware. That was the highest rate by far of the major U.S. airlines. Next in line were Allegiant and Spirit, which had canceled 5 percent and 4 percent, respectively, of their flights on Sunday, according to the flight tracker. American Airlines canceled 2 percent of its flights.

Southwest canceled more than 360 flights — 10 percent of its schedule for the day — on Monday, and more than 800 others were delayed, according to the FlightAware tracking service.

Standing in line

Travelers at the Las Vegas airport Monday afternoon stood in lines snaking from the Southwest customer service desk out through the belt reel partitions in Terminal 1. A handful of travelers sat with their luggage along the windows, watching videos on their phone, making small talk with one another or catching a nap.

One woman left the line, walked straight to her friend and vented about her “annoying” experience in line. Adrianna Aguirre, 29, said she stood in line for nearly two hours after her flight to Burbank, California, was delayed an hour and a half, pushing the arrival time past the takeoff time of her connecting flight back home to San Jose.

Aguirre said Southwest staff told her they couldn’t book her on a direct flight to San Jose, so they booked her for a layover in San Diego.

She and her friend Carmen Santana, 42, were in Las Vegas for a bachelorette party. Santana had been sitting in a chair nearby, while Aguirre stood in line, and at one point had fallen asleep.

“You literally were in that line forever,” Santana told Aguirre. “I was like, ‘Wait, did she forget me?’ And then I saw you over there (in line) and was like, ‘Oh, you didn’t move very far.’”

Craig and Allison Wong were also supposed to board a flight to Burbank and then head home to San Jose, but their flight was delayed twice and eventually canceled. They had spent the weekend attending a leadership conference in Las Vegas.

Craig Wong, 33, said he stood in line for about an hour and was able to find a direct flight to their hometown of San Jose that was scheduled to depart about 4:20 p.m. But the direct flight also appeared to be delayed about 90 minutes to 5:50 p.m.

Allison Wong, 30, said she’s a go-with-the-flow person and wasn’t pressed about the flight issues. Her husband, Craig, echoed a sentiment he heard at the leadership conference: Life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s how you respond to it.

A sickout?

The widespread disruptions began shortly after the pilots’ union asked a federal court on Friday to block the airline’s order that all employees get vaccinated against COVID-19. The union said it doesn’t oppose vaccination, but it argued in its filing that Southwest must negotiate before taking such a step.

The union denied reports that pilots were conducting a sickout or slowdown to protest the vaccine mandate, saying it “has not authorized, and will not condone, any job action.”

The pilots association offered another explanation: It said Southwest’s operation “has become brittle and subject to massive failures under the slightest pressure” because of a lack of support from the company. The union complained about the “already strained relationship” between it and the company.

Alan Kasher, Southwest’s executive vice president of daily operations, said the airline was staffed for the weekend but got tripped up by air-traffic control issues and bad weather in Florida and couldn’t recover quickly. Because of cutbacks during the pandemic, he noted the airline has fewer flights to accommodate stranded passengers.

“The weekend challenges were not a result of Southwest employee demonstrations,” said airline spokesman Chris Mainz.

The Federal Aviation Administration acknowledged delays in part of Florida on Friday but pushed back against Southwest’s air-traffic control explanation. The FAA said Sunday that “some airlines” were experiencing problems because of planes and crews being out of position. Southwest was the only airline to report such a large percentage of canceled and delayed flights over the weekend.

Contact Glenn Puit by email at gpuit@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Mike Shoro and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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