Vaccine mandates had 'zero' to do with flight cancellations, Southwest CEO says

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said that despite assertions by some on social media, federal vaccine mandates were not behind more than 2,000 canceled flights.

During a Tuesday appearance on CNBC, Kelly was asked to what degree President Joe Biden's executive order, which mandates that companies with federal contracts require their staff to be vaccinated, played into Southwest's deluge of cancellations and delays.

"Zero," Kelly responded. "We look at all of our employee behaviors in terms of absenteeism, in terms of people volunteering to come in and pick up what's referred to as ‘open time,' and they're all very normal."


The CEO noted that the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, the airline's pilot union, has also reiterated that the mandate didn't play a role as some on the Right, like Donald Trump Jr., have speculated.

"I think people who understand how airlines work — when you get behind it just takes several days to catch up," Kelly said. "And the fact that we were basically caught up yesterday and today supports the assertion that we're making here."

After the airline canceled more than a quarter of its flights on Sunday, speculation swirled that it was because of "sickouts," or workers using their sick leave to stay home from work as a form of group protest. Southwest said the issues began on Friday with a combination of traffic control and weather problems and ended up causing a chain reaction of cancellations and delays that peaked over the weekend.

The Southwest pilots union called allegations that employees were not reporting to the job to protest the vaccine requirement "false claims" in a statement Monday, although it did point out that while the problems were a "minor temporary event" for other airlines, Southwest was "devastated" because the company's operation "has become brittle and subject to massive failures under the slightest pressure."

Despite his insistence that Biden's vaccine mandates weren't behind the delays, Kelly did push back on the notion of requiring his entire company to be inoculated.

"I've never been in favor of corporations imposing that kind of a mandate. I'm not in favor of that. Never have been," Kelly explained. "But the executive order from President Biden mandates that all federal employees and then all federal contractors, which covers all the major airlines, have to have a [vaccine] mandate ... in place by Dec. 8, so we're working through that."


In addition to Southwest, the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American Airlines, warned that the carrier may encounter staffing issues as the holiday season approaches because of the vaccine requirement.

Original Location: Vaccine mandates had 'zero' to do with flight cancellations, Southwest CEO says


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