1,300 Southwest Airlines pilots protest for better treatment at Texas airport

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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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Vivek Saxena

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