Southwest Airlines cancels nearly 400 flights as maintenance woes, winter storms linger

Dawn Gilbertson

Southwest Airlines' flight woes continue, with nearly 400 Thursday flights canceled due to maintenance issues and winter weather.

Southwest, the nation's largest domestic carrier, had canceled 389 flights, or 9 percent of its schedule, as of 1:15 p.m. ET, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware. That is the highest number of cancellations by any carrier and accounts for 51 percent of flight cancellations within, into or out of the United States, according to FlightAware.

Southwest attributed the high number of cancellations to weather challenges and continuing maintenance issues that have a pulled a higher-than-usual number of aircraft out of service. Southwest did not detail how many of Thursday's cancellations were due to maintenance and how many were due to weather. On Tuesday, the airline said about half of its nearly 200 cancellations were due to maintenance issues.

Southwest canceled 255 Thursday flights into and out of Las Vegas, a desert city that has seen snow this week. Southwest has one of it busiest operations in Las Vegas, with nearly 225 daily departures from McCarran International Airport.

Southwest has had abnormally high cancellations for a week now. The airline declared an operational emergency covering four major maintenance hubs, including Las Vegas, on Feb. 15 amid a long-running labor dispute with its mechanics. It added another city, Dallas, to the emergency status on Tuesday. The airline has ordered all maintenance hands on deck to get planes back in service and said mechanics who call in sick will need a doctor's note.

Tensions on that front escalated this week when Southwest Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven blamed the problem on the union representing Southwest's 2,400 mechanics, the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association. The group has been in negotiations with Southwest for a new contract since 2012. A tentative agreement was rejected by union members last fall. 

"Southwest Airlines scapegoating of its expert aircraft maintenance technicians does not bode well for the airline’s safe operations,'' Bret Oestreich, national director of AMFA, said in a statement on Tuesday. "Safety is, and always will be, our number one priority.''

Passengers aren't happy with the ongoing issues from normally reliable Southwest.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Southwest Airlines cancels nearly 400 flights as maintenance woes, winter storms linger