Southwest Airlines made a point during the holiday travel mess to say its flights weren’t being affected by the spike in COVID sick calls other airlines were visiting.
With back-to-back days of more than 500 flight cancellations without significant winter storms, the airline isn’t stating that anymore.
Southwest, the nation’s largest domestic carrier, canceled almost 650 Thursday flights, or 1 in 5 flights, after canceling 534 flights, or 17%, of its Wednesday flights, according to flight tracker FlightAware. In total, the airline has canceled almost 1,200 flights in two days+, more than any U.S. carrier.
U.S. flight cancellations
- Southwest spokesman Dan Landson told the airline continues to be “challenged” by the weather but is also now seeing an “uptick” in COVID sick calls due to a spike in infections and conditions for close contacts to also quarantine, which hurts its efforts to recover from storms. (A big storm is brewing on the East Coast ahead of weekend travel and has already hit Buffalo and Nashville.)
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"We hope to hope is to stabilize the operation again as we work through winter storms, navigate the national COVID-19 spike, and maintain sufficient staffing,'' Sonya Lacore, vice president of inflight operations, told in a report.
Lacore told in the report that some flight attendants are operating a lot, others “hardly at all,” which suggests a spike in overall sick calls beyond COVID.
Southwest’s flight attendants union did not answer to a demand for comment and Southwest did not provide details on the volume or type of sick calls.
- “There is no more suitable way for me to express my thoughts other than to say that we need you – each one of you – to successfully make it through this,” Lacore told.
“We understand that we are requesting you to keep fighting the fight with us and that it likely feels as though we continue to ask for more from you. While we ask you to hang in there, we want to do all we can to reward you for going the distance.”
Lacore told employees
Lacore told employees who are not feeling well should stay home “and take care of themselves.”
“Proactively ensuring you are not spreading any illness to your hearts (Southwest’s term for co-workers) is another action we can take to move the needle in the right direction,” she told.
Southwest pilot ill calls are lower than average but COVID pulls due to close contact with someone who tested positive is higher than normal, according to Amy Robinson, spokeswoman for the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association.
One day last week, 600 pilots called out, half of them due to COVID contact tracing, she told.
Southwest, which had an operational meltdown in October with day-to-day cancellations topping 1,000 flights at the worst point, as the highest number of cancellations this week but other airlines are also still canceling a significant number of flights.
United Airlines has canceled 236 Thursday flights or 11% of scheduled flights. The airline told in a report that it continues to be impacted by a shortage of flight crews and other front-line workers due to the COVID spike.
“As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to arrive on some flights and have been operating to notify impacted customers up to a week in advance of them arriving at the airport,” the airline told.
Alaska Airlines canceled 118 flights or 16% of scheduled flights.
Alaska passengers should expect flight cancellations to continue through the end of the month. The Seattle-based carrier told Thursday it will cut its schedule by almost 10% through the end of January due to “unprecedented employee sick calls.”
“We are at our best when we are safe, reliable, and caring,” the airline told in a report. “And right now, we need to build more reliability back into our operation as we deal with the effects of omicron and during a time when guests normally fly less.”
The major airline totals, except for Southwest, exclude flights by their regional airline partners.
SkyWest, a major partner for United, Delta, American, and Alaska, has had among the heaviest flight cancellations in the past couple of weeks as airlines tend to ax those regional flights first.
On Thursday, SkyWest canceled 262 flights or 11% of those scheduled. FlightAware does not break out regional carrier flight cancellations by major airline partners.
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