Southwest Airlines pilots lost 20,000 off days. That’s not the scariest problem


Southwest Airlines

Hullo. Thank you for coming and I know why you’re here.

You need one more thing to worry about and you thought this might be the place.

So please take a seat and grab a drink, as this might take a little time. You see, you haven’t been listening as well as you should, and you’re not alone. 

No, that’s not my view. It’s the view of Southwest Airlines pilots.

Not so long ago, the pilots’ union wrote a letter to their new CEO, Robert Jordan. To try and heap pressure upon him, you understand. Oddly, the letter also emerged in the public sphere because it contained truly concerning information.

The pilots warned that they were tired. They said there had been an increase in errors directly correlated to fatigue. They warned that Southwest’s operations were poorly managed.

There was this dire sentence: “Continued and deliberate deficiencies in the management of our network and pilot scheduling have destroyed our efficiency, and now even safety is becoming untenable.”

The mere idea of safety being untenable on a plane is the worst idea a customer can hear.

Southwest’s pilots surely hoped that their letter would help put so much pressure on Southwest’s management that they’d get a new, better and safety-aware — in their view — contract.

Perhaps the letter didn’t work well enough. Now the pilots are picketing to heap more public shame on their bosses.

NBC Dallas-Fort Worth offered that 1,000 pilots stood at Dallas’s Love Field on Tuesday to offer something less than outright adoration for management.

“Summer of LUV,” read one sign. “Delayed. Rescheduled. Cancelled.” That’s not quite the context in which you want your brand mnemonic to appear, is it?

“Our pilots have had to address the fatigue issue with management publicly, which is something that we never want to do,” explained the president of the pilots’ union, Capt. Casey Murray.

How, though, can the pilots get you to care (even) more? Well, they tried to make their story more personal.

Said Murray: “Our pilots have lost over the last year almost 20,000 days off, which is over 50 years that our pilots have lost –  involuntarily being made to fly on off days.”

20,000 days off sounds like a lot. It sounds slightly less when you consider Southwest has around 9,000 pilots. But you’re supposed to get the point: “How would you feel if you had to work on your day off? At least twice a year. And in a job where safety really matters.”

Southwest, perhaps unintentionally, echoed the pilots’ fifty years lost. The airline mused: “Southwest Airlines respects the rights of our employees to express their opinions, and we do not anticipate any disruption in service as a result of this single demonstration. For 51 years, we’ve maintained a legendary southwest culture that honors our valued employees.”

Murray, though, wasn’t done.

He said: “We’ve seen our company not really address a lot of operational problems. And this has been going on for several years.”

The pilots seem to be saying they’ve been tired for years. Which should make many shiver about flying safely. No Southwest customer wants to worry that their pilot may not be entirely alert in the cockpit.

What’s harder for customers to judge is how serious the issue truly is. What’s easier is to be utterly miserable at the current flying experience.

There’s money at stake here, of course, as well as a certain (level of) principle. And safety is the lever that the pilots are pulling hard.

They have some power. They know they can wield it. They want the public storm to rise and, thankfully for them, bad weather in much of America is certainly assisting customer unrest along the way.

But this headline may offer a touch of balance to the whole Southwest Airlines affair: “Southwest Airlines Raises Guidance and Says Travel Bookings Remain Strong.”

Maybe you’re just a pawn in the game, dear passenger.

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