HOUSTON – Jennifer Labit and her family spent five happy days in Orlando, Florida. However, the following two days were not as happy. Due to Southwest Airlines’ cancelations, Labit and her family even had to spend one of those days lying on the floor of the Orlando airport.
“It’s hard to lay on the floor when you are in your 40′s,” Labit told KPRC 2.
The St. Louis family spent those two days trying to get home after their Southwest Airlines flight was canceled twice.
“We spent those two days trying to figure out how we were going to cover expenses for our family while we were in Florida,’ she said.
It happened over the weekend after Southwest Airlines canceled a little over a thousand flights across the country. According to the airline, summer thunderstorms are to blame for the cancellations.
“The relatively few cancellations over the past few days are due to convective thunderstorms across the nation. As a result, Southwest implemented some proactive cancellations,” a spokesperson for SWA wrote in a statement to KPRC 2.
In addition to the weather, the president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association says the airline is experiencing a pilot staffing shortage due to a training backlog.
“With a limited number of available pilots, it’s hard to keep up when big weather events come through,” said Southwest Airlines Pilots Association president, Casey Murray. “We have the pilots here on property they are just not all here today to do the flying required.”
Murray said during the pandemic, thousands of pilots took an extended leave with reduced pay. Some pilots have been off for three to six months.
To get back in the air, the FAA requires that pilots perform a certain amount of training hours.
“That has created a training backlog that is extending from June through July and is going to spill over probably into August,” Murray said.
Murray said there are currently 900 SWA pilots in training.
“It is just a rapid ramp-up after a rapid shut down due to the pandemic and trying to get everyone across the board up and to work and supporting the operation takes some time. We will get them there, that’s a promise,” he said.
According to Southwest, its training center is running classes seven days a week and pilots are returning each day to active flying as they complete required training activities.
Labit said her family made the best of the situation.
She has advice for others traveling, especially during the upcoming busy July 4th holiday weekend.
“I recommend that you leave a budget planned for delays,” she said. “And be aware that you are part of someone’s day that may or may not be able to help you.”