It’s an undisputed fact that Southwest Airlines had serious, widespread issues getting flights off the ground over the last weekend. It’s been documented that well over 2,000 flights were canceled, leaving tens of thousands of passengers stranded.
While other airlines, like Spirit, suffered some cancellations as well, no other major airline had such large-scale issues.
On Saturday, October 9, Southwest issued a tweet, claiming that “ATC [Air Traffic Control] issues and disruptive weather have resulted in a high volume of cancellations throughout the weekend while we work to recover our operation.”
ATC issues and disruptive weather have resulted in a high volume of cancellations throughout the weekend while we work to recover our operation. We appreciate your patience as we accommodate affected Customers, and Customer Service wait times are longer than usual. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/o1scQJ5lLb— Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) October 9, 2021
However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) disputed the notion that ATC issues had anything to do with the delays. In a statement on Saturday, the FAA claimed, “No FAA air traffic staffing shortages have been reported since Friday.” In this effort to shift the blame back to Southwest, the FAA also noted, “Some airlines continue to experience scheduling challenges due to aircraft and crews being out of place.”
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly appeared to walk back the claim about ATC issues over that weekend, during an appearance on ABC News. He pinpointed a few issues on Friday — the FAA delays, weather, the nature of Southwest’s logistical operations — that apparently had a massive domino effect. While the real cause remains debated, it’s reported that operations are largely back to normal at this point in the week.
Was this an anti-vaccine mandate strike or not?
We’ve covered the “what?” but what about the “why?” Why did this happen?
Fairly soon after the cancellations started piling up, it began circulating that the delays were in fact being caused by Southwest pilots “walking out” or calling in sick — on purpose. This “sick out” was an effort to protest the impending threat of losing their jobs due to the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate (for a refresher on that mandate, see here).
Shawn Andrew Walker, ostensibly a pilot (captain) for American Airlines, issued a strong warning for everyone across America to stand up for freedom in the face of increasing mandates — before it’s too late. The video quickly went viral, and now has over 2 million views across multiple platforms.
Additionally, “strike-themed” photos began circulating, including one with a Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flag — that rallying cry of the Tea Party — hanging out of a Southwest cockpit.
Southwest CEO Kelly himself acknowledged that the mandate is a real issue. Speaking to CNBC on Tuesday, he said:
“I’ve never been in favor of corporations imposing that kind of a mandate. I’m not in favor of that, never have been. But the executive order from President Biden mandates that all federal employees and then all federal contractors, which covers all major airlines, have to have a vaccine mandate in place by December 8. So we’re working through that.”
One Southwest pilot, speaking off the record out of fear of reprisal, endeavored to shed some more light on the issue. Speaking to American Greatness, the pilot said the Southwest pilots “are the most conservative collection of white-collar employees in the country.” American Greatness reported that “he estimated that at least 60 to 70% of pilots at Southwest are, like himself, former military” and that “the tyrannical mandate, he explained, erased all of the goodwill pilots and other conservative employees had felt toward their company.”
According to this anonymous pilot, the result wasn’t “an organized strike,” per se, “but with many disgruntled employees calling in sick, or not signing up for overtime to help the airline fulfill the increase in flights typical for a holiday weekend,” the result was a domino effect of grounded flights. In other words, pilots saw the writing on the wall with the vaccine mandate and began using sick days before they lose them.
Adding further fuel to the fire of speculation that these delays were the result of a widespread protest against the vaccine mandates is the fact that the Southwest Airline Pilots Association recently filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Dallas, seeking to block the vaccination mandate. In the filing, the pilot’s union argued, “The new vaccine mandate unlawfully imposes new conditions of employment and the new policy threatens termination of any pilot not fully vaccinated by December 8, 2021.”
As it stands today, both Southwest and the Southwest Airline Pilots Association deny that any of the issues are due to vaccine mandate protests, coordinated walk-outs, or “sick outs.” But is this really the case? They haven’t had their story entirely straight from the beginning, so why should we believe them now?
What really matters: A moment of moral inspiration and much-needed courage
This entire story is a perfect example of how hard it can be to find the “ground truth” in the age of coordinated disinformation campaigns being regularly run by our legacy media. The “weather” excuses didn’t seem plausible. The FAA pushed back on anything ATC-related. Maybe this wasn’t a “coordinated” protest by Southwest employees, but maybe it is a warning signal that many of their pilots are seriously concerned about losing their civil liberties and aren’t inclined to pull overtime for a company that wants to force them to be vaccinated just to feed their family.
Maybe none of that matters in the end, because the moral of this story — regardless of the reality behind the scenes — shines out clear as day.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn – the famous Russian dissident who opposed the Soviet Union, served time in the gulags and then became a world-renowned spokesperson for the truth – once remarked that “the lie has, in fact, led us so far away from a normal society that you cannot even orient yourself any longer; in its dense, gray fog, not even one pillar can be seen.”
All of the lies, half-truths, inaccurate reporting and state-sponsored propaganda about COVID and vaccines has indeed made this episode a “rather dense, gray fog.” But, even though the muck of MSNBC’s “ministry of truth” style reporting and phony Facebook fact-checkers, there is a pillar that can be seen. And that pillar, that moral of the story, that truth, is this: Americans are desperate for inspiration and longing for leaders — anyone — to stand up to the tyrants and defend their freedoms; to stand athwart history — this dystopian history unfolding before our eyes — and yell “stop!” Enough with the mandates. Enough with the madness. Enough.
For a moment, for a weekend, even as flights were grounded, spirits soared. Millions of Americans were inspired simply by the thought that a critical mass of employees took a stand against the unlawful, unconstitutional Biden administration vaccine mandates.
It’s been a moment of moral inspiration and a shot of much-needed courage into the veins of our republic.
Robby Starbuck, a Cuban American running for Congress as a Republican in Tennessee, echoed this rallying cry with a tweet claiming an influx of messages from like-minded airline employees. He wrote:
“I’m getting DMs on all my social media accounts right now from employees at nearly every major airline. They’re all emboldened by the Southwest situation. Expect this to get a lot more serious for airlines very quickly. Lions are awake and people are recognizing their power.”
I’m getting DM’s on all my social media accounts right now from employees at nearly every major airline. They’re all emboldened by the Southwest situation. Expect this to get a lot more serious for airlines very quickly. Lions are awake and people are recognizing their power."
— Robby Starbuck (@robbystarbuck) October 11, 2021
And, perhaps even more substantially, Southwest CEO Kelly publicly stated that, even as they would work to comply with the forthcoming mandate, they were not going to fire anyone for refusing to be vaccinated. In the above-mentioned ABC interview, Kelly said: “We’re not going to fire any employees over this. We’re urging all of our employees to get vaccinated. If they can’t get vaccinated, we’re urging them to seek an accommodation, so we’ll do everything we can to support our people here.”
In a season that seems shot-through with the little guy taking losses, this is a huge win.
So, as another chapter in the hysterical saga that is our COVID times come to a close, remember this truth: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
It seems like one can’t say for sure and certain that the grounded flights were entirely due to an anti-vaccine protest — and as truth-telling freedom fighters that matters. We should never resort to the same tactics we denounce in media.
That said, there is enough evidence out there to suggest that, this weekend, many good men, and women of Southwest Airlines employment, decided the time for doing nothing had passed. The time to stand their ground — and stay on the ground — for the sake of our American way of life, our Constitutional rights, and our civil liberties, had come.
While thousands may have been frustrated due to flight delays, it appears that millions more have been inspired. Perhaps this will go down in our history as a fable of sorts, as a pseudo-factual legend. Whatever it is, it’s a story, that’s for certain. And like all good stories, it has a moral: The time to stand is now. Bravery is inspiring. We the People have more power than we can possibly dream of.
Sometimes we just need someone to help show us the way, to inspire us to take action. That someone was our pilot friends at Southwest Airlines, who just happened to have their moral compasses pointing due North.
Originally published at Standing for Freedom Center.
William Wolfe served as a senior official in the Trump administration, both as a deputy assistant secretary of defense at the Pentagon and a director of legislative affairs at the State Department. Prior to his service in the administration, Wolfe worked for Heritage Action for America, and as a congressional staffer for three different members of Congress, including the former Rep. Dave Brat. He has a B.A. in history from Covenant College, and is finishing his Masters of Divinity at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Follow William on Twitter at @William_E_Wolfe