Staffing shortages in Jacksonville, bad weather lead to widespread flight delays, FAA says

The Federal Aviation Administration blamed widespread severe weather, military training and "limited staffing in one area enroute to Jacksonville. Southwest has the highest percentage of canceled flights. The airline is apologizing for the problems that passengers have been seeing.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) blamed widespread flight cancellations this weekend on bad weather and air traffic control issues in Jacksonville.

The FAA on Sunday afternoon said the flight delays and cancellations occurred for a few hours Friday evening due to widespread severe weather, military training and “limited staffing in one area of the Jacksonville en route center.”

“Some airlines continue to experience scheduling challenges due to aircraft and crews being out of place,” the FAA tweeted.

Southwest Airlines appears to be one of the airlines still having issues.

Southwest has canceled more than 1,000 flights and had another 663 delayed on Sunday as of 5 p.m., according to The cancelations by the nation’s largest domestic airline have left many passengers scrambling across the country, including in Jacksonville.

As of Sunday afternoon, there were 13 total canceled flights at Jacksonville International Airport involving all airlines, accounting for 10% of its operation. There were also six delayed flights, according to FlightAware.

“We experienced weather challenges in our Florida airports at the beginning of the weekend, challenges that were compounded by unexpected air traffic control issues in the same region, triggering delays and prompting significant cancellations for us 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,” a Southwest Airlines spokesperson wrote in a statement to News4Jax. “With fewer frequencies between cities in our current schedule, recovering during operational challenges is more difficult and prolonged.”

For comparison, American Airlines has canceled 143 flights while Spirit Airlines canceled 32 flights across the nation on Sunday, according to FlightAware.

“We experienced significant impact in the Florida airports [Friday] evening after an FAA-imposed air traffic management program was implemented due to weather and resulted in a large number of cancellations,” Alan Kasher, who oversees Southwest’s daily flight operations, told staff in a note on Saturday, NBC News reported.

The president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) blamed the flight woes on staffing and a “poorly run operation.”

There is speculation the delays are connected to opposition to a vaccine mandate the airline announced a week ago, according to Yahoo! News.

The FAA said no staffing shortages within its agency have been reported since Friday.

The airline announced last week that workers must be fully vaccinated by December 8.

News4Jax asked the FAA and called the Air Traffic Control center in Hilliard asking if the vaccination mandate has anything to do with these delays, but we haven’t heard back.

Meanwhile, the people trying to catch a flight say they just want to get home.

One Southwest flyer Katie McClendon said she was on the phone with the airline for three hours, “they still didn’t answer.”

Both the FAA and Southwest Airlines pointed to problems or limited staffing at the Air Traffic Control Centers.

We asked Southwest specifically about the center in Hilliard. They said weather and unexpected air traffic control issues caused the delays.

We spoke with Les Zeilnhofer who worked at the center in Hilliard for 26 years about the situation, he says the center in Hillard is like a funnel, “just like the state looks like they’re all coming in from the northeast and funnel right into the peninsula. So yeah, it’s a big deal – the Hilliard Center.”

Using FlightAware, Southwest, lead the way for delays and cancellations at JAX, and everywhere else Sunday and Saturday.

We didn’t see information on Friday’s delays.

Meghan Lenihan, another Southwest passenger, showed us a notice she got from the airline about her flight Monday.

It read: Circumstances beyond our Southwest control such as weather.

It gave her the opportunity to change her flight day and time at no cost.

But she says there was nothing to change the flight too. “They told me do not do this because if I do this I will lose my spot and probably not get out of here for at least four days...I fly with Southwest all the time. I fly several times a month to see my daughter and we’ve not ever experienced this craziness.”

About the Authors:

A Florida girl and North Carolina A&T SU grad who thrives in breaking news.

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.