PHOENIX - Some travelers waited in long lines at Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport over the weekend and into the week after Southwest Airlines said it had trouble with its network.
According to the airline, there were air traffic control issues caused by bad weather in Florida on Friday. That reportedly led to flight delays and cancellations throughout the weekend.
Florida aviation officials denied the issues are stemming from staffing shortages due to a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Southwest passengers are left wondering why other airlines seem to be taking off on time. The airline is advising travelers to double-check the flight status before heading to the airport.
On Sunday, the airline issued another statement, saying, "We experienced weather challenges in our Florida airports at the beginning of the weekend, challenges that were compounded by unexpected air traffic control issues in the same region, triggering delays and prompting significant cancellations for us beginning Friday evening."
Travelers worried about when they'll make it home
Travelers on Saturday rebooked their flights, but now after Sunday's cancellations, they’re worried they’ll need to rebook again.
Wisconsin woman Colleen Allen is staying positive after her trip to the desert got extended. "If you’re going to be stranded, this is the best place to be stranded. Phoenix is great," she said.
She was one of many waiting in a long line at Sky Harbor on Saturday. Allen was able to get rescheduled for Monday afternoon.
"I had to cancel work tomorrow and get coverage at the hospital I work at and I’m hoping I can be back at work on Tuesday and I also have a 15-year-old daughter at home so I’m scrambling to make arrangements for her," she said.
Allen just hopes it’s figured out and her new flight doesn’t get canceled as well.
"Crossing my fingers, hoping I get out tomorrow," she said. "We have a place to stay. There’s plenty of people that don’t have friends to call on. I don’t know what we would have done without somebody to reach out. So yeah, it could be a lot worse than what it is. And I’m sure for some people it is a lot worse than what we have right now."
It doesn’t matter who you ask in line – the story is the same.
"A roller coaster," Tim Stieren calls it. "OK we made it, no we didn’t. We made it, no we didn’t."
He and his friend John Lapieire fought through multiple canceled and delayed flights to try to get from San Jose to Fort Lauderdale but now are stuck in Phoenix.
"Check in, no worries you guys are gonna pre-board," Lapieire said an airline employee told him. "Literally finished saying that, picked up the mic and said ‘your flight has been canceled and you can pick up your baggage at the carousel.’"
Tim Stieren says of the mess, "We’re trying to get from California to Florida, made it to Arizona in two days."
On Monday, there were 9 flight cancellations at Sky Harbor. A ticketing agent told said they closed the line because they didn’t have the staff.
It’s been rumored that the cancellations of 1 in 4 Southwest flights are because of staffing shortages due to vaccine mandates. The airline blamed problems with air traffic control and the weather but the Federal Aviation Administration says there hasn’t been any issues since Friday.
Some Congressional Republicans said it's a sickout in response to the vaccine mandates.
Arizona Congressman Andy Biggs tweeted, "I stand with #Southwest Airlines employees who are fighting against these mandates."
The union president for southwest pilots told Fox News there is no sickout and that these issues are because of "poor management."
"We want them to correct these inefficiencies that are causing these domino effects and increase cancellations," said Casey Murray with the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association.
The airline is saying there have been no employee demonstrations. Adding, Southwest teams have been working diligently to restore stability to the network, and are experiencing less disruptions on Monday. They hope to restore the full schedule as soon as possible.
Phoenix Aviation Attorney Michael Pearson says he fears it will get worse before it gets better. "So my advice anyone who needs to see grandma over the holidays or travel over the holidays is just plan on driving if you want to make sure you’re there in time," he said.
More than 1,000 flights canceled, hundreds delayed across US
According to FlightAware, a website that tracks flight cancellations and delays, Southwest canceled more than a thousand flights Sunday, another 800 Saturday and hundreds of others were delayed.
In an email, aviation officials in Jacksonville said there were some staffing issues Friday but it was resolved. They also denied rumors it has anything to do with COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
The union for Southwest Airline pilots said this is because of poor planning from the airline and denies there is any job action taking place over vaccine mandates.
A Southwest Airline pilot said off-camera on Sunday that his coworkers don’t want the shot and that they’re angry and aren’t coming to work.
'Southwest offers our sincerest regret regarding disrupted travel plans'
On Monday, Southwest offered another statement, saying in full:
"Southwest Airlines extends a tremendous apology to our Customers and Employees for the flight cancellations and delays which occurred over the weekend and on Monday.
On Friday evening, the airline ended the day with numerous cancellations, primarily created by weather and other external constraints, which left aircraft and Crews out of pre-planned positions to operate our schedule on Saturday. Unfortunately, the out-of-place aircraft and continued strain on our Crew resources created additional cancelations across our point-to-point network that cascaded throughout the weekend and into Monday.
Southwest Teams have been working diligently to restore stability to the network, and we are experiencing less disruptions on Monday. We hope to restore our full schedule as soon as possible. As a note, the operational challenges were not a result of Southwest Employee demonstrations.
To every Customer that experienced a cancellation or delay, Southwest offers our sincerest regret regarding disrupted travel plans, and we look forward to a future opportunity to demonstrate our safe, reliable, friendly, and legendary Southwest Hospitality – something that Customers should always expect from Southwest Airlines.
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