Southwest cancels dozens more flights out of Denver Monday after weekend travel disruptions

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A Southwest airliner approaches Denver International Airport on Friday, March 5, 2021.

Southwest Airlines cancelled dozens of flights out of Denver International Airport Monday morning, continuing a streak of travel disruptions that affected thousands of passengers this weekend.

The airline canceled about a third of all its scheduled flights at DIA on Sunday, according to FlightAware, an online tracking service. In all, more than 200 flights were disrupted over the weekend. By 9 a.m. Monday, more than 40 flights — at least nine percent of all scheduled Southwest flights — were canceled. Dozens more were delayed.

Southwest cancelled the flights as it worked to recover from “air traffic control staffing issues and weather,” over the weekend, the company said in a statement.

“We appreciate your patience as we accommodate affected customers and customer service wait times are longer than usual,” the company tweeted.

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a tweet Sunday that it had briefly been hampered by staffing shortages and severe weather at its Jacksonville, Florida air traffic control center, but “no FAA air traffic staffing shortages have been reported since Friday.”

“Some airlines continue to experience scheduling challenges due to aircraft and crews being out of place,” the FAA said.

The series of cancellations at DIA Monday morning appeared to be limited to Southwest. United and American Airlines had each reported one cancellation as of 8 a.m.

At least three Southwest flights scheduled to leave Colorado Springs’ airport have also been cancelled. Nine are delayed.

It’s the second time this year Southwest has issued a flurry of cancellations. In June, the carrier cancelled thousands of flights over three days after an IT malfunction. That disruption cancelled hundreds of flights scheduled to leave Denver.

In a statement, the union representing Southwest pilots called the most recent situation “another operational meltdown” due to labor shortages.

“What was a minor temporary event for other carriers devastated Southwest Airlines because our operation has become brittle and subject to massive failures under the slightest pressure,” the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association said. “Our pilots are tired and frustrated.”

The union also denied rumors circulating on social media that the cancellations were due to mass walkouts in protest of the company’s new COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Last week, Southwest announced that all employees must get vaccinated by December 8 under the Biden administration’s new rules for large employers.

“Our union is forbidden from taking job action to resolve labor disputes under these circumstances,” the union said. “SWAPA has not authorized, and will not condone, any job action.”

The union has pushed back against the mandate in court, however. On Friday, it filed a request for an immediate hearing before a federal court in Dallas, Bloomberg reported.

SWAPA claimed the recent mandate was one of many violations of the Railway Labor Act, which governs airline-union relations. The union is also seeking to block new quarantine rules for pilots and other pandemic-related workplace policies.