Southwest Airlines pilots want customers to know how bad it really is


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You don’t think about it because you don’t want to think about it.

When you get on a plane, you might be lucky enough to sneak a peek inside the cockpit.

However, you’re more interested in going to your seat and hoping you’re not next to some malodorous person who will spread a spreadsheet on their laptop into the air.

But maybe if you’re flying with Southwest Airlines, you should try to look into the eyes of your pilots and ask yourself how they feel.

This thought is not mine. Not immediately anyway. It comes from Southwest’s own pilots. This week their union wrote to Robert Jordan, Southwest’s new CEO, with some troubling thoughts.

“Fatigue, both acute and cumulative, has become Southwest Airlines’ greatest security threat,” the union said.

That sentence alone might make one or two customers wonder. However, the union added more content.

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“Over the past 12 months, our pilots have submitted an increasing number of ASAP requests [Aviation Safety Action Program] reports contain errors that can be directly correlated with fatigue,” the letter said.

Which doesn’t sound very reassuring.

The union insists that the problems that existed during the pandemic last year are really no better this year. It suggests there are 350% more fatigue reports this year than in March 2019.

The pilots focus on Southwest’s operational systems.

“Continuous and deliberate failures in our network management and pilot planning have destroyed our efficiency, and now even security is becoming untenable,” they say.

When it comes to efficiency, the pilots are recently gave this example: “Because SWA experiences disruptions more often, deadheads [pilots being repositioned] of reallocations will continue to hamper operational recovery due to the lack of modernization of the tools needed to efficiently use Pilots online and at outstations.”

Recently, CEO Jordan himself admitted that the airline’s internal technology systems weren’t great. But it is precisely in times of stress that you need these systems to perform optimally.

Yes, Southwest is hampered by bad weather. And for its part, the airline insists it made changes to its schedules last November, reducing pilot fatigue reports.

But there’s another equally troubling aspect to all of this, one that has other potential long-term ramifications.

if Bloomberg reported, Southwest can’t find more pilots because it can’t find more pilot instructors. In an economy where many are picky about where and when they work, hiring becomes a highly competitive and frustrating activity.

Some might say airlines deserve it because they laid so many people off during the recession. Others might add that Southwest’s pilots aren’t the only ones making such complaints.

American Airlines pilots have gone so far as to create ads that show how badly they say they are being treated.

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Coincidentally, both groups of pilots are currently negotiating a new contract.

Airlines are praising the prospect of an extremely busy summer, with people desperate to travel because they haven’t done much in the past two years. But how can customers expect operations to be reliable?

However, it is the safety warning that will affect customers the most.

Maybe it’s just a scare tactic. Creating fear so often produces results.

However, some customers may be tempted to ask their pilots if they got enough sleep the night before.

Just, you know, just in case.

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