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Southwest canceling fewer Tampa flights Monday after weekend of trouble

Southwest Airlines canceled flights Friday, citing air traffic control issues, leading to more cancellations Saturday and Sunday.
A Southwest Airlines passenger plane taxis on a runway, past a USAF C-130 transport plane while departing from Tampa International Airport (TIA) on Friday, Aug. 14, 2020, in Tampa.
A Southwest Airlines passenger plane taxis on a runway, past a USAF C-130 transport plane while departing from Tampa International Airport (TIA) on Friday, Aug. 14, 2020, in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Oct. 10
Updated Oct. 11

TAMPA — The number of Tampa flights canceled Monday by Southwest Airlines was on the decline after a weekend that saw people stranded at Tampa International Airport and airports nationwide.

As of Monday morning, 13 of 58 arrivals and departures scheduled for Monday were canceled or delayed at Tampa International Airport, according to the airport’s website. On Sunday afternoon, the number was closer to half the scheduled flights.

Southwest is the No. 1 carrier at Tampa International.

There were long wait lines Saturday night at Tampa International Airport where travelers tried to reschedule their Southwest flights but ticket lines shortened Sunday as delays and cancellations began to wane, said Emily Nipps, airport spokeswoman. Nipps warned any travelers, especially those using Southwest, to check their flight status before arriving at the airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration imposed an air traffic management program that essentially grounded Southwest flights Friday, Nipps said.

Related: MONDAY UPDATE: Here’s why Southwest Airlines had to cancel more than 1,000 flights Sunday

The Federal Aviation Administration released a statement via Twitter Sunday afternoon stating Friday night’s delays and cancellations were due to severe weather, military training and a staffing shortage in one area of Jacksonville’s air route traffic control center.

There have not been any reported air traffic staffing shortages since Friday, the statement said.

Southwest took the brunt of the cancellations.

The airline was forced to cancel flights Friday, which caused a domino effect into the weekend. On Saturday, 808 Southwest flights were canceled across the U.S., about 24 percent of its flights, according to FlightAware, a real-time flight tracker. Tampa International Airport saw dozens of Southwest arrivals and departures delayed or canceled Saturday.

Related: Welcome to Southwest Airlines and enjoy your canceled flight!

FlightAware reported more than 1,000 Southwest flights nationwide canceled, about 28 percent of the airline’s flights, on Sunday.

Southwest Airlines tweeted its own statement Saturday, saying the airline experienced air traffic control issues and was working to accommodate those affected by cancellations.

However, Henry H. Harteveldt, president and travel industry analyst at The Atmosphere Research Group, based in San Francisco, points to other causes for the cancellations.

First, he says Southwest has scheduled more flights than it can handle, a problem that started in June. He also noted that Southwest operates what’s known as a point-to-point route network, and when a delay occurs, it “cascades” along the remaining flight segments. That’s because, for example, a Southwest flight departing Fort Lauderdale for the airline’s home base of Dallas may make multiple stops along the way.

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But Harteveldt says the most troubling reason is the likelihood that some pilots who oppose Southwest’s decision to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations are participating in an illegal job action where they call in sick or are engaging in a “work slowdown.”

In a statement Saturday, the airline’s pilot union, Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said that’s not the case.

“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,” it said.

Some travelers took to Twitter to share stories about their canceled flights.

One account, TampaBayNightLife.TV, tweeted that they would miss the KISS concert scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheatre due to a canceled flight back to Tampa.

Another Twitter user, Dawn Gilberston, a travel reporter, said her flight to Tampa was canceled within 90 minutes after she booked it.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.