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Spokane locals, travelers caught in Southwest Airline’s chaotic weekend flight delays

UPDATED: Mon., Oct. 11, 2021

After a weekend of major flight disruptions across the country Southwest travelers check in at Spokane International Airport on Monday.  (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
After a weekend of major flight disruptions across the country Southwest travelers check in at Spokane International Airport on Monday. (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

When Julie Holland finally got home Sunday night, it was 10 minutes to 3 a.m. Her flight had been scheduled to land more than six hours earlier.

“Walking around the airport you’d see the list of ‘canceled, canceled, canceled’ all down the screen,” said Holland, whose flight from Burbank, Calif. was canceled, rescheduled and delayed several times Sunday.

Following Southwest Airlines’ hectic weekend amid thousands of flight cancellations, some Spokane International Airport passengers still found themselves facing delays on Monday.

“I’m still going to fly with them when I go home,” said Evan Zimmerman, a software developer who flew into Spokane on a business trip aboard a flight delayed about an hour Monday morning. “It hasn’t really changed my opinion.”

In Spokane’s airport, some arriving and departing flights were delayed Monday. One coming from Oakland, Calif. was delayed an hour and a half, another from Las Vegas, Nev. was also postponed an hour and 40 minutes. On Monday, no cancellations had happened as of 4 p.m., according to the airport’s flight tracker page.

The airline as of noon Monday canceled 10% of its scheduled flights for the day, over 360. Nearly 1,500 faced delays, or 41% of Southwest’s schedule, according to flight tracker FlightAware.

That’s an improvement from the weekend when Southwest canceled 800 flights Saturday – 24% of its schedule. Another 1,000 were canceled Sunday, 30% of the airline’s flights for the day.

Some rumors floated that pilots and attendants were protesting Southwest’s companywide COVID-19 vaccine mandate, but the Dallas-based airline said Monday in a statement employee demonstrators had not caused the delays.

“The employees there got blindsided as much as the travelers did,” Holland said.

Southwest offered customers a “tremendous apology” in a statement issued Monday that blamed bad weather, air traffic controller issues and “other external constraints” causing cancellations on Friday.

More than 100 planes and crew members “weren’t where they were supposed to be” on Friday night, Mike Van de Ven, Southwest’s president and chief operating officer, told USA Today on Monday afternoon.

“Unfortunately, the out-of-place aircraft and continued strain on our crew resources created additional cancellations across our point-to-point network that cascaded throughout the weekend and into Monday,” Southwest said in its statement.

Some pilots said the delays and cancellations came from management’s “poor planning,” according to a statement Monday from the Southwest Airline Pilots Association.

“SWAPA is aware of operational difficulties affecting Southwest Airlines today due to a number of issues, but we can say with confidence that our pilots are not participating in any official or unofficial job actions,” the union said in its statement.

No air traffic staffing issues had been reported to the Federal Aviation Administration, the administration tweeted Sunday.

But the agency acknowledged that “widespread severe weather, military training, & limited staffing in one area of the Jacksonville en route center” did cause delays and cancellations on Friday, according to the FAA’s tweet.

One of the canceled flights on Sunday was Pablo Ryan’s return home from a vacation he took in Tulsa, Okla., he said. The Coeur d’Alene resident flew in to Spokane on a delayed flight Monday morning.

“It really didn’t affect me that much,” Ryan said. “They let me know at least 24 hours in advance, and then rescheduled it within, like, the hour.”

His rescheduled flight took him through Denver and then to Spokane, but this did not add much more time than his original route, Ryan said.

Overall, Zimmerman said, the process went smoothly in spite of the circumstances. When his flight coming from Austin, Texas, was delayed, Zimmerman said the airline offered $900 vouchers for passengers to reschedule their flight.

“I almost took one, honestly,” Zimmerman said.

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