Bedlam at Southwest Airlines

by Kerry Dougherty

At the risk of sounding like a paid Southwest Airlines P.R. person, I can truthfully say it’s my favorite airline.

No change fees. Two bags fly free. Decent fares if you book early enough.

Best of all, Southwest flies out of our sad little airport.

Those perks are nice, but what impressed me most was the time I was in the Norfolk boarding area, peered out the window and saw the pilot on the tarmac, helping the baggage handlers load the plane.

I asked another SWA pilot about the incident and he assured me it wasn’t uncommon. The goal is to get the aircraft turned around quickly. Everyone pitches in.

I’m a sports fan. I like teamwork wherever I find it.

Besides, many SWA pilots are ex-Navy pilots. After a wild landing once in bad weather, the pilot came on the public address system and asked if we could tell he was a former Blue Angel. Such excitement!

But is it time to break up Southwest?

After all, the airline appears to be in chaos. For the past three days more than 1,000 flights have been canceled, others have been delayed and the company is offering sorry excuses as it blames the bedlam on weather and air traffic controllers.

Odd. No other airline is suffering the same fate. How can weather and air traffic controllers create snafus for only one airline?

Consider this: The Associated Press reports that cancellations began after the airline announced last week  that all employees had to be vaccinated against Covid-19 by December 8 and the SWA pilot’s association flew to federal court to stop it.

The widespread disruptions began shortly after the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, representing 9,000 pilots, asked a federal court on Friday to block the airline’s order that all employees get vaccinated. The union argued that Southwest must negotiate over the issue because it could involve sick leave or disability if pilots have a reaction to the vaccine.

“We are not anti-vaccination at all, but our pilots are extremely worried about how their medicals are going to be handled” if they are unable to fly, union president Casey Murray told The Associated Press. Murray said pilots had not staged a sickout because of the vaccine mandate.

He instead blamed the chaos of the past few days on Southwest’s operation, which he said has become “brittle” and “cracks under the slightest pressure.” He said the airline uses antiquated crew-scheduling technology that leads to cascading disruptions when flights are canceled in one part of its network.

Who to believe?

Why would pilots head to court to oppose vaccine mandates when millions of other American workers have grumbled but sheepishly gone along with the government overreach?

As it turns out, there may be a good reason: Seems pilots may be worried about vaccine side effects that could be terminal.

For their jobs

A pilot sent me a message yesterday pointing out that blood clots or heart problems – however minor or temporary – are job-ending events for pilots.

That’s sobering.

If the Southwest anarchy is the result of pilots quietly resisting vaccine mandates – and I believe it is – I applaud the courage of the pilots and hope they’re joined by other airline workers. The larger the protest, the quicker it will end.

Disgruntled pilots may have gotten a boost Monday from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who banned all vaccine mandates in his state.

Guess where SWA is headquartered?


Look, some pilots have been flying for 19 months without being vaccinated. They pose no risk to passengers from their locked cockpit.

I have SWA tickets to Memphis in two weeks for a football game. If my flight is cancelled I’ll road trip.

If it’s a go, I will not inquire about my pilot’s vaccine status.

Because I really don’t care.

This column has been republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed & Unedited.