October cancellations cost Southwest Airlines $75M

A Southwest Airlines plane is parked at Terminal B at BWI Airport in Baltimore, Md., on Monday, August 16, 2021.
Greg Nash

Southwest Airlines said Thursday that recent mass flight cancellations cost the carrier $75 million and announced that it will cut flights in December to prevent further disruptions. 

The Dallas-based airline cancelled over 2,000 flights earlier this month over air traffic control issues and poor weather conditions that were aggravated by staffing shortages. 

“We have reined in our capacity plans to adjust to the current staffing environment, and our ontime performance has improved, accordingly,” CEO Gary Kelly said in a statement Thursday. “We are aggressively hiring to a goal of approximately 5,000 new employees by the end of this year, and we are currently more than halfway toward that goal.”

The company’s staffing shortage, along with a surge in COVID-19 cases, cost the airline around $300 million, Kelly said. 

Despite the disruptions, Southwest on Thursday reported a third-quarter profit of $446 million. If not for federal assistance, the carrier would have lost $135 million. Federal airline aid expired at the end of September. 

Republican lawmakers sought to capitalize on Southwest’s cancellations by asserting that they were caused by employees protesting the company’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Those claims were quickly refuted by Southwest and its pilots’ union. 

Still, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association is asking a court to block the airline’s vaccine requirement and has warned that the airline’s staffing shortage will only get worse if it fires workers who don’t provide proof of vaccination. 

Southwest, along with most of the other major carriers, are complying with the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors. Southwest has large contracts with the U.S. government to transport government officials and supplies.

Tags Airlines cancellations COVID-19 mandate requirement southwest airlines Vaccine
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