ATC Staff Shortage, Weather Cause Cancellations


A perfect storm of bad weather and an unfortunately timed ATC staffing shortage caused a massive ripple through airline schedules, prompting cancellations and delays over the weekend. Southwest was among the hardest hit and FlightAware reported 2,000 flight cancellations and 663 delays after what the FAA said was a relatively short hiccup in the system on Friday evening. Among the key factors in the upset was a staffing shortage in one section of Jacksonville Center, one of the country’s busiest. The FAA said the flight delays and cancellations only lasted a few hours but they quickly sent airline schedules into chaos. “Some airlines continue to experience scheduling challenges due to aircraft and crews being out of place,” the FAA tweeted.

Southwest told News4Jax that its current limited schedule compounds the recovery efforts from such a schedule disruption. “With fewer frequencies between cities in our current schedule, recovering during operational challenges is more difficult and prolonged,” the company said in a statement to the TV station. “We’ve continued diligent work throughout the weekend to reset our operation with a focus on getting aircraft and crews repositioned to take care of our customers.”

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  1. There was weather Friday afternoon between the Orlando area south and west to Tampa/St. Pete. I flew a trip south of there and it was no worse than other summer days. Other than the staffing issues at JAX center I saw little reason for the shutdown which I missed by a couple of hours. I did get a reroute taking me down the arrival along the gulf coast.

  2. I’m confused. What does a picture of the Carrier Air Traffic Control Center aboard the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy in the Arabian Gulf in 2004 have to do with JAX Center? Did you just not have stock photos of a radar facility?

    • Apparently the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) does not agree with you, Cameron Garner. SWAPA says it is the “pre-eminent union of Southwest Airlines Pilots”. Their web site has a post, “SWAPA in the News: Southwest Airlines, Union says Pilots Did Not Walk Out to Protest Vaccine Mandates”[1], dated 11. October. It is a link to a Dallas Morning News article[2], with the same headline, dated 10:30 AM on Oct 11, 2021 CDT. The article quotes the union president,

      ‘While there have been employee protests over mandates, pilots union president Casey Murray said there was no effort by pilots to disrupt Southwest’s operations.

      ‘“We have the data from this weekend and our sick rates were exactly in line with where they were all summer with the same kind of operational disasters,” Murray said.

      ‘It’s true that more pilots may say they are unable to fly because of fatigue during a weekend with a large number of delays and cancellations, Murray said, but he added that’s because there are more pilots called in to work and more pilots working.’

      Do you trust the pilots’ union if it says the staff shortage is NOT the result of a mass protest of staff against the vax mandate?

      Links (sanitised so that they won’t get held by AvWeb anti-spam robots):
      [1] www swapa org /news/2021/swapa-in-the-news-southwest-airlines-union-says-pilots-did-not-walk-out-to-protest-vaccine-mandates/
      [2] www dallasnews com /business/airlines/2021/10/11/southwest-airlines-union-says-pilots-did-not-walk-out-to-protest-vaccine-mandates/

      • Er… Jim, the article clearly indicates the staff shortage was at Jacksonville Center – that’s ATC (Air Traffic Control, specifically the radar guys here), not Southwest Airlines.

        That’s where the protest was, NOT SWA.

  3. HERB KELLEHER must be turning over in his grave!! This is NOT the Southwest Airlines that he nurtured into one of the largest, most profitable airlines on the continent. Does anybody in the boardroom at SWA actually believe that Jacksonville Center and a few thunderstorms in Florida shut down 30% of their operations? For three days? Of course not.
    At this point in time, three days into an obvious job action by one or more elements within the company , management is sticking to the unsubstantiated and actually ridiculous claims made on day one.
    I think management would be better served to called a spade a spade and cease trying to avoid acknowledging that the VACCINE MANDATE is the real reason for this JOB ACTION ( I think that that is what Herb would do. I commend Gary Kelly et al (SWA management) for continuing to enforce scientifically sound health protocol. I just wish that they would call out those responsible, whoever they are, and let the truth be known.

  4. It’s as much an issue of freedom of choice as it is “science,” or lack thereof. It’s perfectly clear to me that the neo-left Government – thru it’s lackeys — are slowly tightening the vice on all of us in a myriad of ways. Wearing masks, involuntarily being “ordered” to take a vaccine, staying home to work, paying people to stay home … et al … it’s all a ruse. At this point, the impact of Covid is falling below that of the impact of the normal seasonal flu yet the mythical “they” continue to use it as a means to ‘control’ the masses. This particular issue is merely a reflection of the population’s generic frustration over same.

    As I type this from my summer location in the woods of Wisconsin, I’m looking out the slider at a neighbor’s home. A Government DOT vehicle has been parked and hasn’t moved the whole five months I’ve been up here this year. How the heck a DOT Highway Safety Inspector can do his job hiding in his basement all day evades me. THERE’s your problem! I think Richard G hits the issue squarely on the head.

    There’s a much bigger story here but some people are missing it …

    • HEY … by accident, I just realized I’ve solved the ATC problem described here ! Give all ATC types a free subscription to FlightAware, make sure they have high speed internet and give ’em a radio. They can “control” airplanes from their basement and nobody will know they’re in their BVD’s. And when airliners become optionally manned, everybody can stay home. If the traveling public discovers Zoom and also stays home, the Government can just issue bushel baskets full of money to the airlines and we can all live happily ever after as prisoners in our basements.

      At Airventure, the FAA hangar operation was closed because of Covid fears yet the Administrator brought his “Army” of senior people with him to his “Meet the Administrator” meeting. Apparently, they were all given a pass and had been vaccinated (sigh).