Though Southwest Airlines continues to dispute the circumstances around the mass cancellation of its flights over the weekend, Republicans in Congress have been quick to criticize the airline and side with its employees amid rumors the disruptions are stemming from an internal demonstration against its Covid-19 vaccine mandate.
Reports of Southwest cancelling nearly 2,000 flights on Saturday and Sunday—disruptions the airline blamed on bad weather and air traffic control issues—immediately sparked speculation from Republicans about the role of the company’s new vaccine mandate, which had already sparked some internal opposition.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) took to Twitter on Sunday night to declare the cancellations the result of “Joe Biden’s illegal vaccine mandate at work,” referencing the federal government’s requirement that major airlines get workers vaccinated or risk losing lucrative contracts.
Fellow Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy went a step further, proclaiming himself “100% behind” employees at the Dallas-based company, which he called on his colleagues in the House and Senate to boycott
“Shut them down,” wrote Roy. “And when they come begging for bailout — not one [Republican in the House] or [Senate] should support them.”
After the company’s pilots union asked a court Friday to block Southwest from implementing its vaccine mandate, the cancellation of more than 25% of Southwest’s flight on Sunday has sparked a cascade of complaints and scrutiny. The company and the union representing its pilots sourced the massive disruptions to bad weather and an air traffic management program imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration. But commentators have highlighted that other airlines canceled relatively few flights over the weekend, a disparity Southwest is yet to comment on. This, coupled with the documented internal opposition to the company’s November 24 vaccine mandate, catalyzed speculation the disruptions are linked to the mandate.
Despite mounting speculation about a so-called “sick out,” a spokesperson for Southwest vehemently denied any connection with the mandate. “The weekend challenges were not a result of Employee demonstrations, as some have reported,” the company said in a statement. “We have a closer to normal operation today, navigating some new weather across our system.”