Over 1,300 Southwest Airlines pilots gathered Tuesday at the entrance to Love Field Airport, only miles from the airline’s headquarters in Dallas, to protest for better working conditions and a better union contract.
According to multiple reports, one of the key issues is a persistent pilot shortage that, incidentally, first became a problem around the time Southwest Airlines decided to implement a vaccine mandate for its employees.
The shortage has led to pilots feeling overworked and under-compensated, according to Dallas station KDFW. It’s also triggered delays and cancellations for passengers, which in turn has meant pilots are constantly having to tell passengers, “I’m sorry.”
Wow, want to know the true depth of the airline employee shortage? Even as we are dealing with some turbulence, the pilot is talking on the intercom about how Southwest is hiring, telling passengers it could even be a second job, if they want.
— 🏳️🌈Chase🏳️🌈(Pride Month Version)🏳️🌈 (@chasekaracostas) April 23, 2022
Another major issue is poor scheduling, though from the sounds of it, this issue appears to be directly linked to the pilot shortage.
Capt. Casey A. Murray, the president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, “said many pilots arrive at work scheduled to fly to one destination only to receive a late reassignment notification instructing them to fly elsewhere, and in many cases, it’s a longer flight, which has led pilots feeling fatigued and frustrated,” according to NBC News.
“At least 30% of pilots are being reassigned everyday, Murray said. He said Southwest has about 9,600 pilots but declined to say how many more it needs to hire to address the shortage,” the report added.
11:18 update. No one at rental car return, took a pic of our spot and car w no dents. @SouthwestAir employee working since 3AM, kiosks down, she said it’s been a nightmare. One, in the know, source told me pilot shortage… is the biggest problem. Flight might take off at 12:28 pic.twitter.com/fcxbMcE8KC
— Angela Ganote (@angelaganote) April 3, 2022
But Murray, for his part, seems to believe the real issue is the airline’s scheduling process, not a lack of pilots.
“Our point is that you have enough pilots today to operate the airline. The problem is you’re misusing them,” he said to The Dallas Morning News.
“During periods of storms and other disruptions, Murray said a high number of pilots are being reassigned to new flights, which means adjustments for their schedules later that day and for days to come. At the worst times, there are so many disruptions that pilots begin running into Federal Aviation Administration limits on hours flown or required breaks before flying again,” the Morning News notes.
“Pilots and flight attendants have complained that flight cancellations and meltdowns have led to nights when they had to sleep on airport floors or shown up to hotels without rooms being booked. The union contends that Southwest badly needs to update its technology that helps reschedule pilots during disruptions, but it also needs to give pilots more flexibility to pick up extra flying and rearrange trips.”
“What is going on, on a day-to-day basis, is a wasteful use of the pilot resources they have,” Murray told NBC News.
WATCH: Hundreds of @SouthwestAir pilots who say they are “understaffed and overworked” protesting outside Love Field airport in Dallas pic.twitter.com/cJf0dDXu2N
— BNN 🇺🇸 Newsroom (@BNNUS) June 21, 2022
1,300 Southwest Airlines pilot picket at @DallasLoveField. Asking for better scheduling management, updated contracts and less pressure to work overtime and days off. @swapapilots pic.twitter.com/IhawVd2B9Y
— Markie Martin (@MarkieMartin) June 21, 2022
The family that Informational Pickets together, stays together. Proud to stand with my family — along with 1,300 other Southwest Airlines Pilots Association Union members in Dallas today — who 896 days ago proposed a new, industry-leading contract. #IStandWithSWAPA pic.twitter.com/T9CtWeOJKE
— Kimberly Miller (@khmiller182) June 21, 2022
The final key issue is delayed contract negotiations.
“Southwest has been negotiating with pilots since 2020, although the talks slowed considerably during the COVID-19 pandemic as both sides waited to see what economic conditions would look like once the worst of the travel industry’s slowdown was over,” according to the Morning News.
“The pilots and company are far from a contract and it will likely be months before a new deal is reached. The two sides haven’t even started serious negotiations on pay, which is usually the final and thorniest issue of a new contract.”
Observable problems at Southwest first began popping up in October, right after the airline announced that it would be implementing a vaccine mandate.
Exactly a day after the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association filed a court motion accusing the airline of violating certain labor laws with its vaccine mandate, thousands of flights began being canceled out of the blue.
The airline blamed the disruptions on air traffic control issues and bad weather, but according to unconfirmed reports, the real culprit was a massive internal anti-vaccine mandate protest.
Some similarly believe that the real culprit behind the airline’s current dilemmas is the vaccine mandate.
These are the real-world consequences of vax mandates+them losing many good pilots. Only THREE out of 51 SW flights outta Phoenix last Thurs was on time. The rest were ALL delayed. This is not weather for those 48 delayed flights. This was understaffing due to the vax mandate pic.twitter.com/MWpqR3DRQp
— Liberty For All 🇺🇸 (@No_MandatoryVax) June 15, 2022
While it’s not clear whether the mandate is still in effect, critics believe that just a few months of the mandate being in effect was all that was needed for airlines like Southwest to lose droves of qualified pilots.
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