The Leader Of Southwest Airlines Pilots Has Something To Say About His Company’s Big Mess

Southwest Airlines has completely melted down. They didn’t just cancel more flights than anyone else over the Christmas holiday – by a large measure – they’ve failed to recover their operation. They keep cancelling a majority of their flights.

The reasons for this are many. Bad weather. Inadequate staffing. Inexperienced staff (18% of Southwest’s workforce is new this year, with over 15,000 hires since January). And a long-term investment deficit in the systems and technology to properly track their workforce. Their phone system collapsed. Not only couldn’t customers get through to rebook, employees couldn’t get through either.

SWAPA, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, has something to say. Here’s what the President of Southwest’s pilot union is telling the airline’s cockpit crews.

  • I told you so
  • We weren’t willing to make adjustments to our work rules to support the operation without getting most of what we wanted, anyway
  • There are plenty of employees
  • There’s rotten IT
  • The CEO hasn’t called me

Of course there are problems both of sufficient staffing and proper IT to best utilize that staffing. There’s an IT investment deficit which Southwest has been working to rectify for years, way too slowly. The pilot union head isn’t being constructive here, but there’s a legitimate gripe for both employees and customers to say the airline CEO should be more visible in this crisis.

Here’s the full message from the pilot union head to pilots:

Pride and Avarice

Casey Murray, President

I can’t express my appreciation for the dedication and professionalism each of you has shown through this leadership vacuum and failure from the top on down at Southwest. Each communication from SWA’s “leadership” is more tone deaf than the last. And each meltdown has become worse than the last.

Pride and avarice have replaced our once vaunted culture. “Pride” in ignoring solutions that have been, and continue to be, offered to support the house of cards that our operation has become. And even though irrefutable analytics and data have been provided by SWAPA again and again, pride in their outdated processes and technology continues to drive our management. A former VP of Flight Ops once stated “SWAPA has no levers to pull here, but I can” as he dismissed solutions offered by your Union. “Avarice” as evidenced by how our management chooses to continue to reward shareholders instead of stakeholders — the very same stakeholders that the Company relies on to recover the operation during and after every meltdown.

My message from last year, Investing in the Operation lists decades of acknowledgements by management of the exact same failures that defined this meltdown.

SWAPA anticipated that operational challenges might force the Company to offer another Ops Issues MOU like last year, so we polled the membership in November to measure support. Overwhelmingly, you replied that you had no interest in an MOU that was merely a one-time buy off unless the Company included Contract 2020 scheduling efficiencies to help guard against exactly what is happening today. Our Negotiating Committee met with Labor Relations just last week and not once did the Company make an offer, despite the looming forecast. At 1600 on Christmas Eve, I received a call from Mr. Kuwitzky about bonus pay retroactive to December 22. Shortly thereafter, the Company changed their offer to retro from the 20th and forward-looking incentive pay through January 3.

SWAPA’s governance process, as the Company is well aware, requires that any agreement of the Association has to be vetted and voted on by the BOD and time is necessary for that. It is bad practice to do so in such a compressed timeframe, but in an emergency, we can if needed. Your BOD worked through Christmas Eve and Christmas Day addressing it and guiding our committees to support our Pilots. NC Chair Jody Reven has been in contact with Mr. Kuwitzky today, but unless he commits to some Contract 2020 scheduling asks to help mitigate the chaos to your QOL during potential future meltdowns in writing as part of any MOU, then I fear we can’t get there from here.

SWAPA has provided endless data over the past several years to provide solutions, so I want to frame this a different way. We all know that the Company has had its head buried in the sand when it comes to its operational processes and IT. Worst of all, through the numerous and ever-increasing meltdowns that we have endured during the last 20 months (much less the last decade) Southwest has had enough crews in place to operate the planned schedule. It’s not until SkySolver and scheduling roulette begin that the network spirals out of control. The Company’s failed solution? Hire more. Add reserves. Optimize and reassign Pilots online. We aren’t undermanned. We’re undermanaged. Even with the correct number of Pilots on any given day, the house of cards fails, and fail it does with ever-increasing frequency and severity.

Back to this past week, not only was this storm forecasted, but this meltdown was predicted.

Minneapolis and Detroit had lower temperatures, higher winds, and more precipitation, yet Delta managed their hubs with minor delays and cancellations. United had a fraction of the delays and cancellations than SWA in Denver and recovered O’Hare days before we stabilized Midway. So what is the root cause? Pride, avarice, and complete failure and responsibility of management from the very top. Southwest, the once LUV airline, placed blame on you. From your very own VP of Flight Ops who wrote “low Open Time pick up rates and increased sick usage” to the VP of Ground Ops who wrote a six-paragraph diatribe blaming his ramp staff and threatening termination in three of those six paragraphs.

At this point, I’m concerned for our airline. I’m concerned that our CEO hasn’t been in contact with your president or anyone from SWAPA during this crisis. We won’t survive another 10 years as a company if this continues, and maybe no more than five. I’m more concerned for our more junior membership who have 20, 30, or 40 years of a career left here. I’m concerned that this leadership team has been trained to fail by those who came before them. So far, they have shown a complete inability to address ANY of the failures that continue to plague our airline day-in and day-out. They can’t say that SWAPA has not offered to help nor offered solutions. We have been sounding the alarm for years. Here are just two of dozens: Normalization of Drift and An Open Letter to SWA.

At the end of the day, regardless of what those vice presidents above said, you are the last line of defense to our safety culture. You have demonstrated your professionalism and commitment to your customers and safety through enormous adversity, and it needs to be recognized and rewarded. We need to be a part of the solution to the current threat to our airline and our careers. Until that happens, I fear the final meltdown may be right around the corner.

Case

What do you think of this message, from the head of the Southwest Airlines pilot union, as the airline’s operation melts down, cancelling over 60% of flights per day?

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