Unsupported ‘sickout’ claims take flight amid Southwest woes


When Southwest Airways cancelled greater than 2,000 flights over the weekend, citing dangerous climate and air visitors management points, unsupported claims blaming vaccine mandates started taking off.

Conservative politicians and pundits, together with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, alleged the flight disruptions resulted from pilots and air visitors controllers strolling off their jobs or calling in sick to protest federal vaccination necessities.

The airline, its pilots’ union and the Federal Aviation Administration denied that.

“The weekend challenges weren’t a results of Southwest worker demonstrations,” Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz stated Monday.

Nonetheless, Twitter posts claiming airline workers had been “standing as much as medical tyranny” and collaborating in a “mass sickout” amassed hundreds of shares. Imprecise and nameless messages on social media speculated that Southwest was hiding the actual motive for its disruptions. And anti-vaccine rallying cries reminiscent of .DoNotComply, .NoVaccineMandate and .HoldTheLine had been among the many 10 hottest hashtags tweeted in connection to Southwest over the weekend, in keeping with a report from media intelligence agency Zignal Labs.

Whilst flights seemed to be working nearer to regular on Tuesday, the Texas-based airline remained on the heart of the most recent entrance within the vaccine mandate tradition warfare, its challenges exploited by opponents of vaccine necessities.

Neither the corporate nor its pilots’ union has supplied proof to again up their explanations for why practically 2,400 flights had been canceled from Saturday by means of Monday. Southwest has solely stated that dangerous climate and air visitors management points in Florida on Friday triggered cascading failures wherein planes and pilots had been trapped out of place for his or her subsequent flight.

The disaster peaked on Sunday, when the airline canceled greater than 1,100 flights, or 30% of its schedule. By Tuesday night, it had canceled fewer than 100 flights, or 2% of its schedule, though greater than 1,000 flights had been delayed, in keeping with monitoring service FlightAware.

“If you get behind, it simply takes a number of days to catch up,” CEO Gary Kelly stated Tuesday on CNBC. “We had been considerably set behind on Friday.”

Southwest struggled all summer time with delays and cancellations. A senior government admitted to workers Sunday that the airline continues to be understaffed and may want to cut back flights in November and December.

Regardless of repeated requests, the corporate and the union have declined to say what number of workers missed work in the course of the disaster. They’ve stated that absentee charges had been much like these over a typical summer time weekend, however they haven’t put out numbers to assist that argument. It is usually unclear what number of Southwest pilots are unvaccinated.

“We do not know, and the corporate would not know,” stated Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airways Pilots Affiliation.

In the meantime, hypothesis from outstanding conservative politicians and pundits has flooded into the void. Many shared the unsubstantiated idea, however few supplied particulars, information or examples of workers strolling off the job to protest the vaccine.

“Joe Biden’s unlawful vaccine mandate at work!” Cruz tweeted Sunday. “All of the sudden, we’re brief on pilots & air visitors controllers. .ThanksJoe.”

The Republican senator wrote in one other tweet Monday that he met final week with leaders of pilot unions who “expressed deep concern over the vaccine mandates.” A spokeswoman for Southwest pilots stated nobody on the union had talked to Cruz. A spokesperson for Cruz didn’t reply to emailed questions from The Related Press about whether or not the Republican senator had any firsthand data of pilots or air visitors controllers skipping work.

Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin additionally posted the rumors on social media, with out providing proof.

Imprecise, familiar-looking “good friend of a good friend” tales are a harmful type of misinformation as a result of they “really feel like insider data being shared by people straight concerned within the motion,” in keeping with Rachel Moran, a misinformation scholar on the College of Washington.

Related unsupported claims circulated on-line in August, when social media customers falsely claimed that flight delays and cancellations out of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Worldwide Airport had been the results of vaccine mandates. In September, false web rumors swirled that 40% of workers at protection contractor Common Dynamics had declined the vaccine and threatened to give up.

Some Twitter customers related Southwest’s flight issues to information that on Friday the Southwest Airways Pilots Affiliation had requested a federal decide in Dallas to dam the airline’s vaccine mandate. The union stated below federal labor regulation, Southwest should discount with the union earlier than making adjustments affecting working situations. The decide has not dominated but.

Requested on Tuesday to reply to claims that vaccine mandates have lowered the workforce and contributed to supply-chain disruptions, White Home press secretary Jen Psaki took a jab at Cruz — sarcastically labeling him a “world-renowned enterprise, journey and well being professional” — earlier than defending Biden’s coverage.

“I do know there was a bit hubbub over the course of the previous couple of days about Southwest Airways,” Psaki stated. “We now know that a few of these claims had been completely false and truly the problems had been utterly unrelated to vaccine mandates.”

Biden’s order, which continues to be being finalized, would require employers with 100 or extra staff to get vaccinated or examined weekly for COVID-19. Airways, nonetheless, are authorities contractors as a result of they carry out work reminiscent of emergency flights for the Protection Division that carried Afghanistan refugees to the U.S. in August. That makes airways topic to a harder customary below the Biden order: obligatory vaccinations with no opt-out for getting examined.

Following the lead of different airways, Southwest informed workers final week that it will require them to be vaccinated by Dec. 8.

Whereas some workers at airways and different giant corporations have spoken out towards vaccine necessities, feedback on social media have created an exaggerated sense of the dissent, in keeping with Moran, the misinformation scholar on the College of Washington.

“In actuality, it is fairly a small variety of people who find themselves protesting employment-based mandates for the vaccine,” Moran stated. “Individuals are extra susceptible to misinformation in occasions of disaster, and these labor shortages and supply-chain delays both create an actual sense of disaster or are manipulated by misinformation spreaders to make it seem like we’re heading in direction of disaster.”


Swenson reported from New York. Amanda Seitz in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.

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