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By ANNE D’INNOCENZIO
NEW YORK (AP) — Southwest Airlines canceled hundreds of flights over the weekend, blaming the woes on air traffic control issues and weather.
The airline canceled more than 1,000 flights in total, or 29% of its schedule, as of 7 p.m. ET Sunday, according to flight tracker FlightAware. That was the highest rate by far of the major U.S. airlines. Next in line was Allegiant, which canceled 6% of its flights. American Airlines canceled 5% of its flights, while Spirit canceled 4% on Sunday, according to the flight tracker. On Saturday, Southwest Airlines canceled more than 800 flights.
Southwest Airlines said in an emailed statement that it had experienced weather challenges in its Florida airports at the beginning of the weekend, which were compounded by unexpected air traffic control issues in the same region. Those issues triggered delays and prompted significant cancellations for the airlines beginning Friday evening.
“We’ve continued diligent work throughout the weekend to reset our operation with a focus on getting aircraft and crews repositioned to take care of our customers,” said Southwest Airlines. “With fewer frequencies between cities in our current schedule, recovering during operational challenges is more difficult and prolonged.”
The company said that it’s allowing customers to explore self-service rebooking options on Southwest.com, where they can get updates on the status of their travel.
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, Florida, for the airline’s home base of Dallas may make multiple stops along the way.
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.
Harteveldt noted Southwest’s woes could linger and affect its fourth quarter financial performance.
“All of this is happening as people are in the midst of booking their Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year holiday travel,” he said. “It’s very possible that some people who might normally book on Southwest may see this news and choose to fly other airlines.”
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This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the last name of the analyst at The Atmosphere Research Group. It is Henry Harteveldt, not Harteveltd.
ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – St. Louis Regional Bomb and Arson detectives are investigating an overnight house fire in south St. Louis County that claimed the life of a 61-year-old man.
According to Officer Adrian Washington, a spokesperson for the St. Louis County Police Department, officers responded to a call for a house fire in the 3500 block of Eileen Ann Drive around 1:35 a.m. Sunday.
Police arrived and saw heavy smoke coming from the home. Firefighters searched the residence and found a man’s body in the basement.
Anyone with information on the investigation can contact the St. Louis County Police Department 636-529-8210 or CrimeStoppers at 866-371-TIPS.
COLUMBIA, Mo. – The University of Missouri football team has been selected to play in the Armed Forces Bowl later this month.
The Tigers will face the Army Black Knights at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas. The game is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 22.
Mizzou went 6-6 in 2021 and 3-5 in SEC play. Army, an independent school, went 8-3 this season.
The Armed Forces Bowl will be broadcast on ESPN.
U.S. health officials said Sunday that while the omicron variant of the coronavirus is rapidly spreading throughout the country, early indications suggest it may be less dangerous than delta, which continues to drive a surge of hospitalizations.
President Joe Biden’s chief medial adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told CNN’s “State of the Union” that scientists need more information before drawing conclusions about omicron’s severity.
Reports from South Africa, where it emerged and is becoming the dominant strain, suggest that hospitalization rates have not increased alarmingly.
“Thus far, it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it,” Fauci said. “But we have really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe or it really doesn’t cause any severe illness, comparable to delta.”
Fauci said the Biden administration is considering lifting travel restrictions against noncitizens entering the United States from several African countries. They were imposed as the omicron variant exploded in the region, but U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has blasted such measures as “travel apartheid.”
“Hopefully we’ll be able to lift that ban in a quite reasonable period of time,” Fauci said. “We all feel very badly about the hardship that has been put on not only on South Africa but the other African countries.”
Omicron had been detected in about a third of U.S. states by Sunday, including in the Northeast, the South, the Great Plains and the West Coast. Wisconsin and Missouri were among the latest states to confirm cases.
But delta remains the dominant variant, making up more than 99% of cases and driving a surge of hospitalizations in the north. National Guard teams have been sent to help overwhelmed hospitals in western New York, and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker issued an emergency order requiring any hospitals facing limited patient capacity to reduce scheduled procedures that are not urgent.
U.S. officials continued urging people to get vaccinated and to receive booster shots, as well as take precautions such as wearing masks when among strangers indoors, saying anything that helps protect against delta will also help protect against other variants.
Even if omicron proves less dangerous than delta, it remains problematic, World Health Organization epidemiologist Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove told CBS’ “Face The Nation.”
“Even if we have a large number of cases that are mild, some of those individuals will need hospitalizations,” she said. “They will need to go into ICU and some people will die. … We don’t want to see that happen on top of an already difficult situation with delta circulating globally.”
Two years into the outbreak, COVID-19 has killed over 780,000 Americans, and deaths are running at about 860 per day.
More than 6,600 new hospital admissions are being reported daily, according to tracking data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. have dropped by about half since the delta peak in August and September, but at more than 86,000 new infections per day, the numbers are still high, especially heading into the holidays, when people travel and gather with family.
By GENE JOHNSON, Associated Press
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