GOP lawmakers and Trump praised a Southwest Airlines anti-vaccine mandate walkout which authorities say never happened

Ted Cruz
Sen. Ted Cruz. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
  • Conservatives claimed recent Southwest flight cancellations were linked to a staff anti-vaccine mandate protest.
  • Donald Trump and Ted Cruz were among those pushing the rumor.
  • Southwest’s CEO and the FAA said the cancellations were actually due to technical issues and bad weather.

Conservatives are heaping praise on what they claim was an anti-vaccine mandate protest by Southwest Airlines pilots, which authorities say didn’t happen.

Southwest canceled thousands of flights last weekend, citing bad weather in Florida and air traffic control issues.

But former President Donald Trump, GOP lawmakers, and right-wing media personalities have for days been pushing unsubstantiated rumors that the cancellations were the result of a walkout by staff protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

As flight cancellations began on Saturday, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, linking to a news report that provided no substantiating evidence, claimed that the situation was actually due to staff shortages linked to the vaccine mandates.

“Joe Biden’s illegal vaccine mandate at work. Suddenly, we’re short on pilots & air traffic controllers,” he tweeted.

Donald Trump Jr, the former president’s eldest son, also linked cancellations to a staff vaccine protest in a Sunday tweet.

“The fact that thousands of Southwest employees walked off the job protesting the COVID vaccine mandate forcing the airline to cancel more than 1000 flights is not getting enough attention. Media will make sure you don’t see it but keep watching, it won’t be the last protest!” Trump Jr. said.

And in a Sunday radio interview, Donald Trump himself speculated that the flight cancellations had to do with staff protesting his election loss last year, as well as vaccine mandates.

“I think it has a lot to do with a lot of things. I think it has something to do with the election that was rigged,” he said in a radio interview this weekend. “I think these are big fans of your favorite president, I think that this has something to do with that. I think it has something to do with the … I think it has a lot to do with mandates.”

Southwest Boeing 737-800
A Southwest Boeing 737-800 plane. Steven M. Keller

According to the rumors, the cancellations were the result of staff calling in sick en masse in protest at the vaccine mandates. The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association had filed a federal court request last Friday for the mandate to be blocked.

Southwest, its pilots’ union, and the Federal Aviation Authority have denied that there is any truth to the rumors.

In a Tuesday CNBC appearance, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said vaccine mandates had “zero” relation to the flight cancellations.

“We have some very strong views on that topic, but that’s not what was at issue with Southwest over the weekend,” said Kelly.

Casey Murray, the president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, told The New York Times that the real reason for the cancellations was that there had been problems reassigning thinly-stretched staff to new flights.

The Federal Aviation Authority also hit back at the rumors.

“To be clear: None of the information from Southwest, its pilots union, or the FAA indicates that this weekend’s cancellations were related to vaccine mandates,” it tweeted.

Republicans have for months been seeking to damage Biden by attacking COVID-19 vaccine mandates issued by his administration. The mandates were issued over the summer, amid lagging vaccination rates, for federal workers, contractors, and employees of large companies, and have yet to come into effect.

Southwest has said it will require staff to follow the mandate and get fully vaccinated by November 24, with exemptions for religious and medical reasons.