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In an Astonishing Memo, Southwest Airlines Pilots Made Frightening Accusations That Will Worry Every Passenger

What is going on at Southwest? Whatever it is, it isn’t good.

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BY Chris Matyszczyk - 02 Mar 2019

Chicago, IL, USA - January 18, 2015: Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-800 landing on 31C at the Chicago Midway Airport.

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.


It's like discovering your favorite soap opera family has a twisted underbelly.

It's like learning that the nice elderly lady who shops every day at the supermarket once headbutted a friend over a game of dominoes.

Recent events at Southwest Airlines have, indeed, exposed a different side to what many believe is America's friendliest, most customer-oriented airline.

First, Southwest announced a Trumpian state of emergency, as it said that many more planes than usual needed repairs.

Southwest threatened to fire mechanics who didn't come to work without a doctor's certificate.

Next, the airline claimed the mechanics were deliberately trying to sabotage operations in order to secure a better contract. (The two sides have been negotiating for seven years.)

Passengers began to express their displeasure.

You might think that the airline's pilots would be very concerned. You might even think that they might be worried the mechanics were behaving badly.

However, Captain Jon Weaks, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, offered these words in a memo this week to his 10,000 members:

The last few weeks have highlighted how poorly upper management at Southwest Airlines is performing, how it truly views labor, how ineffective its communication and execution of our daily operation are, and how everyone at OUR airline should be concerned.

Well. That seems a tinge conclusive, doesn't it? Yet he'd only just begun:

Southwest declared a State of Operational Emergency (SOE), a veiled attempt designed to intimidate our mechanics that has instead caused unnecessary fear and safety concerns in our passengers and the flying public.

He still wasn't done:

What followed this declaration is perhaps the most egregious display by management of tribalizing and scapegoating our employees in the history of our Company.

Weaks accused the airline of basic, astounding failures:

AMFA [Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association] has been vocal about not having enough parts being on hand, and at times had no choice but to legally use or 'rob' parts from other aircraft in order to meet operational demands. What should be obvious to upper management is that, by failing to stock enough parts, relying on borrowing parts from other aircraft and banking on just-in-time inventory, the Company is in no way helping, but only furthering, delays.

Borrowed parts? That doesn't sound reassuring.

Southwest, says Weaks, outsources 80 percent of aircraft maintenance, far more than its major rivals.

He implies that the outsourced companies simply aren't as efficient or proficient as Southwest's own mechanics.

Weaks insisted that the airline's planes are safe to fly:

Our aircraft are safe, and a large part of that is because the men and women of AMFA continue to do their jobs in the face of increasing pressure, intimidation and scrutiny from Southwest management.

Naturally, I asked Southwest for its view. It repeated earlier statements on the subject. For example:

Our investigation has revealed that the surge in out-of-service aircraft appears to be the product of an unlawful job action by a small subset of identified AMFA-represented Mechanics. To the extent AMFA believes this dramatic and statistically implausible spike in UAD is attributable to something other than concerted activity--despite the fact that the Company's maintenance program and procedures have not changed--we've asked for information and supporting data so that we can work with AMFA to constructively remedy this situation.

The airline also referred me to the words of CEO Gary Kelly, who said that the mechanics "deserve all of our thanks and they deserve a new labor contract."

He added that the mechanics are "extraordinary."

Oddly, the airline this week decided to sue its mechanics.

Something smells quite rotten here.

And, with the airline about to fly longer over water than ever -- to Hawaii -- some passengers must at least be wondering whether to skip Southwest for a while.

With consummate coincidence, I received an email from Southwest only on Wednesday morning.

It was headlined:

If you're happy and you know it...


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