When The Airlines Lie,
American Society Suffers
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2021 -- U.S. airlines now only do one thing well: Lie. We all know from bitter experience that airlines lie about schedules, routes, perks, prices and even about their lies.

But Southwest Airlines' inane pronouncements as its network melted down on a busy holiday weekend have repercussions far beyond the transportation system or our lives on the road. Those stupid lies last weekend tore another hole in the American social fabric. A country already groaning under the weight of a seemingly endless pandemic is much worse for it.

In case you were hiding under a blanket the last few days, let me first give you the factual framework of the chaos Southwest created at airports around the nation.

Starting on Saturday (October 9), the airline began cancelling flights in startling numbers. According to FlightAware.com, more than 800 dumped on Saturday, representing 24% of Southwest's schedule. On Sunday, it was 1,100 flights, 30% of its schedule. On Monday, "only" 435 were dumped, about 12% of the system. Tuesday and Wednesday were closer to normal and 2% of its flights were dropped each day. As of 6pm today, Southwest was running normally with 36 cancellations, 1% of its operations.

We've seen these systemic meltdowns frequently since traffic began recovering from the lowest flying days of the pandemic in April, 2020. Southwest suffered a similar collapse in late June. Spirit Airlines fell apart during the summer. Delta Air Lines had epic meltdowns last Thanksgiving and Christmas. American and United have had them, too.

But Southwest compounded its situation last weekend with bald-faced, transparently stupid fibs. It blamed bad weather and an air-traffic control (ATC) problem in Jacksonville, which handles much of Florida's flight operations. Then it went silent as the rest of the nation's carriers had a surprisingly decent holiday weekend of operations.

Southwest responded to any reporter challenging its narrative with stony silence. And when it spoke again, well into Sunday's collapse, it stuck to the absurd lie that weather and Jacksonvile ATC issues were the root of its route problem. Even after reporters produced weather maps, the FAA threw some rare bureaucratic shade and Jacksonville aviation authorities refuted the claims, Southwest stuck to its lies. Southwest continues prevaricating and disassembling today as it purports to be apologizing.

The truth, of course, was that Southwest executives massively overscheduled for the busy Columbus Day weekend and didn't have enough crews--never had enough crews--to operate the flights. Thanks to digging from intrepid reporters who cover the airline beat, we have learned some interesting, down-in-the-weeds facts:
        Despite repeated claims to be trimming operations during ongoing staff shortages, Southwest management actually scheduled more flights last weekend than any time since the pandemic began. On Sunday alone, it had more than 3,600 on the books.
        For reasons fully known only to Southwest planners, as much as half of the carrier's fleet of 1,000 aircraft runs through Florida airspace on any given day. That means a minor ATC issue in Jacksonville on Friday (October 8) would have disproportionally affected Southwest flight operations nationwide.
        Southwest's pilots union produced internal documents showing that there was no upsurge in sick calls last weekend. In fact, crews picked up a greater proportion of last-minute flight assignments than they usually would.

By now you're saying: Joe, why waste time on this? Southwest melted down. Its executives lied. Sounds like same-old-same-old. What's new?

What's new is the absurdly politicized world in which we live and the willingness of anti-vax grifters to lie even more outrageously than Southwest Airlines management.

As you surely know, Southwest Airlines last week became the next to-last major carrier to say it would require its staff to vaccinate. While United Airlines imposed its own mandate in August, other airlines stalled and waited for the federal government to classify them as government contractors required to act on vaccinations. American, JetBlue, Alaska all said they'd comply. Begrudgingly, Southwest finally said the same thing. (Delta, the last holdout, previously told unvaccinated employees they would pay a $200 monthly premium on their health insurance.)

Southwest's pilots, a prickly, cantankerous bunch even by pilot standards, took exception. They asked a Texas court last Friday for an injunction against the mandate.

That is all anti-vax grifters needed to fuel an ad hoc campaign of lies. Seizing on the obvious absurdity of Southwest's feeble excuse for its meltdown, the anti-vax crew promptly constructed an alternative narrative: Southwest pilots were engaging in a massive sick-out to oppose the vaccine mandate.

Their evidence for this claim: Nothing. Not a single fact. Not even one Southwest employee speaking with a blacked-out face and altered voice to support the sick-out claim. The anti-vax protest was made from the same whole cloth Southwest management used to fabricate its weather/ATC excuse.

All weekend, as Southwest flights cancelled and Southwest management hid behind its lies, the anti-vax grifters went to work stoking the social-media fires with flammable bullshit.

Southwest's entire staff of air traffic controllers was engaged in a sick-out! (Airlines don't have air traffic controllers.)

Amtrak workers were joining the Southwest protest! (The railroad cancelled a total of two trains over the weekend.)

American Airlines crews were joining the job action! (American ran just fine over the weekend.)

Several notorious social-media scammers produced a photo of a Gadsden flag flying from a Southwest cockpit as proof that employees were mounting a sick-out. (To believe that, of course, you must believe a Southwest pilot reported for work, entered a cockpit, unfurled the banner and then declared himself sick and went home.)

Bumptious Texas Senator Ted Cruz tweeted that a "very credible & senior source in aviation" told him all but three Jacksonville ATC staffers engaged in a sick-out. (Miraculously, those three somehow kept all of Florida's flights in the air!)

The more you tried to explain that the grifters had no evidence and presented the contrary facts, the more they dug in, the more they amplified and expanded their lies. Needless to say, they did not want to hear that United Airlines, now 98% vaccinated, had just a few dozen cancellations over the weekend. Delta, 90% vaccinated, had even fewer. American, JetBlue, Alaska Airlines and the others ran just fine.

In the end, the anti-vax narrative of a massive Southwest sick-out rests on a single data point: Southwest management's explanation was a lie, so the bullshit we've invented might be true. Anyone who refutes our claims with "fake news" facts is covering up for corporate airline stooges bowing to Biden.

And, yes, this does sound very much like the stolen-election lie. Which shouldn't surprise you because the same grifters pushing that crap are behind the Southwest Sick-Out fantasy. The names and Twitter accounts are literally the same. Yet thousands of gullible rubes who believe the con artists are lapping it up. They are now sincerely convinced that entire airlines and the nation's railroad are paralyzed by brave and patriotic employees opposing vaccine mandates.

The bottom line, of course, is that virtually all Southwest pilots will get vaccinated. So will American pilots. Flight crews will go along, too. The experience of United, which imposed a mandate, and Delta, which imposed a financial penalty, shows that.

But it doesn't matter now. Southwest management's lies have given the anti-vax crowd its meme and they'll run with it forever.

The next time an airline melts down--and it will--and the next time airline executives lie about it--and they will--anti-vaxxers will be there claiming it's a protest, a sick-out, a blow struck for "liberty" and the god-given, all-American right to get sick, infect your neighbors and die.

This is what lying airlines get you: Bigger lies spun by bigger grifters who don't think 720,000 dead Americans are enough.