By Kaylee McGhee White
Southwest Airlines has canceled more than 2,000 flights over the past 36 hours and wants customers to believe the meltdown was due to “bad weather” in Florida and air traffic issues. This is an obvious lie: No other airline in the region had to ground 25% of its flights, and last I checked, the weather doesn’t single out airlines.
The truth is likely a combination of factors: First, Southwest has been scheduling more flights than it could handle since June, and it is now running into a massive backlog. And second, the company’s staffing shortages are being exacerbated by its vaccine mandate, which was announced last week.
Southwest told its employees that they have until early December to get the COVID-19 vaccine or face termination due to President Joe Biden’s federal vaccine mandate for government contractors. Any airline that contracts with the FAA is considered a government contractor. There is no test-out option for the government contractor vaccine mandate.
Though the airline is allowing exemptions for “religious, medical, or disability” reasons, there will be undoubtedly many employees frustrated with the order. Several other airlines that have implemented similar mandates are facing employee protests and pushback from the unions. Just last week, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association took the company to court on behalf of its 9,000 members to block the new vaccination requirement.
This discontent is absolutely affecting Southwest’s ability to do business, as it has every other airline. But it’s a lot easier to blame the scheduling malfunctions on “bad weather” than it is to admit that forcing vaccination upon employees is unpopular and unhelpful. To admit as much would mean going up against Biden and the federal government and potentially losing federal funding.
But that’s exactly what the airlines should do. Biden’s vaccine mandate has the potential to create a full-blown transportation crisis if this keeps up. A union representing pilots for American Airlines has warned the company that if it does not find “alternate means” of complying with Biden’s mandate, thousands of pilots will have no choice but to leave.
Other companies in the transportation sector are feeling the effects as well. Amtrak has had to cancel several of its trips in the past week “due to unforeseen crew issues,” and large trucking firms have warned that if Biden follows through on the other half of his vaccine mandate — the one requiring employers with more than 100 employees to mandate vaccination or weekly testing — there will be an uproar that could upend the entire supply chain.
It’s time to call Biden’s bluff. His private sector vaccine mandate does not even exist yet. He’s just using the threat of it to compel private companies to do what he can’t do himself. And in regards to federal funding, no one wants to see this spiral into a full-blown transportation crisis, least of all Biden, who is dealing with the growing threat of inflation, a border crisis that shows no sign of abating, and a pandemic that has sent his approval ratings tumbling.
The best thing Southwest and the other airlines could do is stand up to Biden and let their employees decide what’s best for their health. If they don’t, the protests, sit-outs, and resulting transportation headaches will continue.