Southwest Experiences Operational Emergency

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Southwest Airlines canceled more than 100 flights over the Presidents Day weekend not from weather or crew issues but because more than twice the usual number of its Boeing 737s were out of service for maintenance.

On a typical day, Southwest will have 20 of its 750-airplane fleet sidelined for maintenance. But since last week, the airline has averaged twice that number. The airline said there was no "common theme" to the maintenance events.

Friday the airline issued an "all hands" demand to its maintenance crews that implied unexcused absences could result in termination. "We are requiring all hands on deck to address maintenance items so that we may promptly return aircraft to service," Southwest said. The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Southwest told workers "alleging illness" that they will be required to prove they were actually sick with a doctor's note upon returning to work or face termination.

This "perfect storm" of maintenance activity comes on the heels of Southwest removing 22 aircraft from service on the belief that incorrect fuel-pump O-rings had been installed. Those aircraft were cleared and returned to service late last week.