Southwest pilot union threatens pickets over scheduling issues, lack of hotels, COVID-protocol clarity

The issues have also been raised by pilots and flight attendants working for American Airlines

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association is considering multiple picket protests in the fourth quarter as union members say they are suffering from a slew of problems, including a lack of hotels and food availability, clarity on COVID-related protocols and abrupt schedule changes amid rising travel demand.  

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SWAPA president Casey Murray claimed in a video message on Thursday that while the union has made multiple attempts to meet with Southwest to resolve the issues, members have been met with "reluctance and a lack of understanding, and sometimes straight up hostility."

"We must accept that our efforts to improve efficiency and make Southwest Airlines more competitive have fallen on deaf ears time and time again, because the company has made it clear that they are comfortable with the operation as is managed today…these decisions are impacting not just pilots, but other frontline workers, as well as our customers." Murray said. "We are asking for you to stand with us and show the company that we are resolute in our insistence that they begin to address their immediate operational issues and accept SWAPA as a partner to resolve the chronic problems that cloud our airline's future."

Murray argued that SWAPA has offered "many solutions over the years that create margin" for both Southwest pilots and the airline as a whole, but that management's refusal to try the union's solutions or engage in a discussion has lead members to consider the protests. 

"SWAPA is taking these actions because our pilots love Southwest Airlines and we want to protect and preserve it," Murray concluded. "Until management starts taking us seriously and addresses some of our pilots concerns, we cannot sit idly by and wait for things to fall further apart."

Southwest vice president of flight operations Bob Waltz told FOX Business the airline has teams "working diligently to adapt to the current environment and support our employees during this peak travel season, including efforts focused on providing support to our pilots." 

"We routinely work with the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association on a variety of matters that affect our pilots, but we also have a responsibility to consider a number of factors before implementation of suggestions," Waltz added. "We remain committed to listening to feedback and proactively working to address issues as we navigate the months ahead."

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The call from pilots comes after TWU Local 556, the Southwest flight attendants union, sent a letter to CEO Gary Kelly on Tuesday demanding improvements in working conditions, protection for members against unruly passengers, an end to the "abusive nature" of extended duty days and reschedules, stopping additional pairings on flights, and terminating the company's use of emergency sick call procedures. 

"We have experienced technology failures, severe understaffing and operational failures that are completely out of our control, yet we suffer the sometimes violent frustration of our customers as the face of Southwest Airlines. We need support in any and every way possible," the union wrote. "We refuse to continue to be treated like our safety and our ability to perform our duties is an afterthought. Our Members are at a breaking point and we believe now more than ever the company must work with us to solve issues for our members and for the operation of our company."

Pilots and flight attendants working with competitor American Airlines have also made similar complaints

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Southwest operated 650 more daily round-trip flights in June than it did in March, a 25% increase, and the number of passengers and the bags they checked nearly doubled. Meanwhile, the airline's on-time performance dropped to 62.4% in June and was at about 67% in July, according to Southwest executives. In comparison, on-time performance in 2019 was 75.1% in June and 80.3% in July, respectively. 

More than 1.6 million passengers traveled through airport checkpoints on Wednesday, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
LUV SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CO. 49.69 +0.29 +0.59%

On Southwest's second quarter earnings call, chief operating officer Mike Van de Vaan pledged the airline will "do better" moving forward following a series of flight delays or cancellations as a result of its operational challenges.

In order to alleviate its staffing issues, Southwest plans to offer employees "premium pay" to work on scheduled days off and is looking to ramp up hiring in several of its large cities. The airline will also give its employees 20,000 "Southwest Airlines Gratitude (SWAG) Points" for referrals who are offered a position and complete six months with the carrier.