October 15, 2021

Southwest cancelations: Unsupported claims blame airline disruptions on pilot ‘sickout’ over vaccine mandates

DALLAS — When Southwest Airways canceled greater than 2,000 flights over the weekend, citing unhealthy climate and air visitors management points, unsupported claims blaming vaccine mandates started taking off.

Conservative politicians and pundits, together with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, alleged the flight disruptions resulted from pilots and air visitors controllers strolling off their jobs or calling in sick to protest federal vaccination necessities.

The airline, its pilots’ union and the Federal Aviation Administration denied that.

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

Nonetheless, Twitter posts claiming airline staff have been “standing up to medical tyranny” and taking part in a “mass sickout” amassed 1000’s of shares. Imprecise and nameless messages on social media speculated that Southwest was hiding the true purpose for its disruptions. And anti-vaccine rallying cries equivalent to #DoNotComply, #NoVaccineMandate and #HoldTheLine have been among the many 10 hottest hashtags tweeted in connection to Southwest over the weekend, in response to a report from media intelligence agency Zignal Labs.

Whilst flights seemed to be operating nearer to regular on Tuesday, the Texas-based airline remained on the heart of the most recent entrance within the vaccine mandate tradition conflict, its challenges exploited by opponents of vaccine necessities.

Neither the corporate nor its pilots’ union has offered proof to again up their explanations for why almost 2,400 flights have been canceled from Saturday by means of Monday. Southwest has solely stated that unhealthy climate and air visitors management points in Florida on Friday triggered cascading failures during which planes and pilots have been trapped out of place for his or her subsequent flight.

The disaster peaked on Sunday, when the airline canceled greater than 1,100 flights, or 30% of its schedule. By Tuesday night, it had canceled fewer than 100 flights, or 2% of its schedule, though greater than 1,000 flights have been delayed, in response to monitoring service FlightAware.

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

Southwest struggled all summer time with delays and cancellations. A senior government admitted to staff Sunday that the airline continues to be understaffed and would possibly want to cut back flights in November and December.

Regardless of repeated requests, the corporate and the union have declined to say what number of staff missed work in the course of the disaster. They’ve stated that absentee charges have been much like these over a typical summer time weekend, however they haven’t put out numbers to help that argument. Additionally it is unclear what number of Southwest pilots are unvaccinated.

“We don’t know, and the company doesn’t know,” stated Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airways Pilots Affiliation.

In the meantime, hypothesis from outstanding Conservative politicians and pundits has flooded into the void. Many shared the unsubstantiated idea, however few offered particulars, info or examples of staff strolling off the job to protest the vaccine.

“Joe Biden’s illegal vaccine mandate at work!” Cruz tweeted Sunday. “Suddenly, we’re short on pilots & air traffic controllers. #ThanksJoe.”

The Republican senator wrote in one other tweet Monday that he met final week with leaders of pilot unions who “expressed deep concern over the vaccine mandates.” A spokeswoman for Southwest pilots stated nobody on the union had talked to Cruz. A spokesperson for Cruz didn’t reply to emailed questions from The Related Press about whether or not the Republican senator had any firsthand information of pilots or air visitors controllers skipping work.

Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin additionally posted the rumors on social media, with out providing proof.

Imprecise, familiar-looking “friend of a friend” tales are a harmful type of misinformation as a result of they “feel like insider information being shared by individuals directly involved in the action,” in response to Rachel Moran, a misinformation scholar on the College of Washington.

Comparable unsupported claims circulated on-line in August, when social media customers falsely claimed that flight delays and cancellations out of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Worldwide Airport have been the results of vaccine mandates. In September, false web rumors swirled that 40% of staff at protection contractor Normal Dynamics had declined the vaccine and threatened to give up.

Some Twitter customers linked Southwest’s flight issues to information that on Friday the Southwest Airways Pilots Affiliation had requested a federal decide in Dallas to dam the airline’s vaccine mandate. The union stated beneath federal labor regulation, Southwest should cut price with the union earlier than making modifications affecting working circumstances. The decide has not dominated but.

Requested on Tuesday to reply to claims that vaccine mandates have decreased the workforce and contributed to supply-chain disruptions, White Home press secretary Jen Psaki took a jab at Cruz – sarcastically labeling him a “world-renowned business, travel and health expert” – earlier than defending Biden’s coverage.

“I know there was a little hubbub over the course of the last few days about Southwest Airlines,” Psaki stated. “We now know that some of those claims were absolutely false and actually the issues were completely unrelated to vaccine mandates.”

Biden’s order, which continues to be being finalized, would require employers with 100 or extra employees to get vaccinated or examined weekly for COVID-19. Airways, nonetheless, are authorities contractors as a result of they carry out work equivalent to emergency flights for the Protection Division that carried Afghanistan refugees to the U.S. in August. That makes airways topic to a harder customary beneath the Biden order: obligatory vaccinations with no opt-out for getting examined.

Following the lead of different airways, Southwest instructed staff final week that it will require them to be vaccinated by Dec. 8.

Whereas some workers at airways and different giant corporations have spoken out in opposition to vaccine necessities, feedback on social media have created an exaggerated sense of the dissent, in response to Moran, the misinformation scholar on the College of Washington.

“In reality, it’s quite a small number of people who are protesting employment-based mandates for the vaccine,” Moran stated. “People are more vulnerable to misinformation in times of crisis, and these labor shortages and supply-chain delays either create a real sense of crisis or are manipulated by misinformation spreaders to make it appear like we are heading towards crisis.”


Swenson reported from New York. Amanda Seitz in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.