Student travel affected by airline regulations

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Dylan Olive

On Oct. 4, Southwest Airlines announced a vaccine mandate among its employees: to keep employment, you will have to receive a COVID-19 vaccination or be exempt for medical or religious reasons by Dec. 8.

The Southwest Airlines Pilot Association asked a federal court in Texas, where Southwest Airlines is based, for a temporary hold on the vaccine requirement to prevent the vaccination mandate from being carried out. 

The mandate complies with Joe Biden’s executive order requiring federal employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

American, United, Frontier, Alaska and Hawaiian Airlines, as well as JetBlue, have all announced vaccine mandates for their employees, Southwest being the most recent to announce their mandate.

The Southwest Airlines Pilot Association is seeking an injunction from a federal court in Dallas for the vaccination mandate to be put on hold, the SWAPA also asked for a request to seek an immediate hearing in court, claiming that Southwest Airlines have continued to take actions that violate the Railway Labor Act during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Railway Labor Act solves disputes between carriers and employees.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbot signed an order on Oct. 11 banning vaccine mandates for any private business with over a hundred employees.

Last month, the Biden administration said it would require any business with more than one hundred employees to get vaccinated or get tested weekly.

Despite Abbot’s new order, Southwest Airlines is going to continue their vaccine mandate, and the Biden Administration is continuing to push its executive order. 

“Bottom line is we’re going to continue to implement the law, which the President of the United States has the ability, the authority — the legal authority to do, and we are going to continue to work to get more people vaccinated, to get out of this pandemic,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

“I believe the federal vaccine mandate supersedes any conflicting state laws, and this does not change anything,” a spokeswoman from the airline said.

In a statement to POLITICO, Southwest said “Federal action supersedes any state mandate or law, and we would be expected to comply with the President’s Order to remain compliant as a federal contractor.” 

Over 2,000 flights were canceled starting Oct. 8 through that entire weekend, and it left thousands of passengers with a major inconvenience on their hands. The passengers wanted answers as to why so many flights were getting canceled out of nowhere.

“ATC issues and disruptive weather have resulted in a high volume of cancellations throughout the weekend while we work to recover our operation,” Southwest Airlines tweeted on Oct. 9.

Many assumed that the strike was due to the large number of flights suddenly canceled: if there is no crew, then there can’t be any flights.

No other airlines had this weather issue like Southwest did, which leads people to believe that the cancellations were due to the Southwest strike.

An update from Southwest was released on Oct. 11 as to why the operational disruptions were happening.

Weather issues caused cancellations, and that resulted in a continuous build-up of crews and aircrafts not being in the right place for their current schedule.

“On Friday evening, the airline ended the day with numerous cancellations, primarily created by weather and other external constraints, which left aircraft and Crews out of pre-planned positions to operate our schedule on Saturday,” Southwest said in a statement.

On Oct. 12 Southwest CEO Gary Kelly apologized on Good Morning America to the customers and employees affected by these cancellations.

Whether or not staffing was the issue due to all the cancellations, the Allied Pilots Association is worried that the vaccine mandate will result in a loss of employees for the airline, “We are also concerned that the Executive Order’s anticipated 60-day implementation period for mandatory vaccinations could result in labor shortages and create serious operational problems,” said the APA. 

The APA went on to say “Airlines generate a substantial portion of their annual revenue during the holiday period, with a great many travelers depending on us to get them to their destinations.” 

If the vaccine mandate is not affecting Southwest currently, then it will once the busy holiday season starts, and when the Dec. 8 deadline is here.

Many Florida Southern College students fly home for breaks, and the vaccine mandate could have an impact on flights being affected. This would result in some students having more difficulties in getting home.

“As a college student living over 1,000 miles from home, I usually fly home,” Hannah Noll said. “ If my flight were to get canceled, it would put stress on both me and my family to try to find another flight, and if we couldn’t find another one, I would be stuck at school, losing the little family time I get.” 

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