‘Weary, exhausted, frustrated & forgotten’ - Southwest Flight Attendants
August 17, 2021
By Kyle Arnold, Dallas Morning News
Southwest Airlines flight attendants say they are at a “breaking point” after months of emergency working measures meant to cope with the sudden surge in passenger demand this summer.
In a letter to Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly on Tuesday, TWU Local 556, the union representing 15,000 flight attendants, said members are “weary, exhausted, frustrated and forgotten” amid the rush to return flying to pre-pandemic levels. The union is demanding that the company drop “emergency” procedures that require documentation for sick leave and is asking the company to stop extending flight attendant work trips and give help with air rage incidents.
“The pervasive sentiment in our membership is that there is no interest in protecting the well-being of the single most customer-facing department in this company,” said the letter from the flight attendant union’s executive board. “We refuse to continue to be treated like our safety and our ability to perform our duties is an afterthought.”
The letter comes just a few days after the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association wrote a letter to Southwest management demanding that the company “to provide a safe and healthy work environment” amid the surge in COVID-19 cases from the delta variant.
But even with the increase in flying this summer, Southwest warned investors last week that it was unlikely to make a profit in the third quarter because of canceled bookings tied to the surging delta variant of the COVID-19 virus.
Southwest Airlines and other airlines have drawn the ire of workers for rushing planes back into the air after drastically reducing workforces over the last year to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Southwest Airlines never furloughed workers but did urge thousands of workers to take extended voluntary leave to reduce payrolls.
Now airlines have aggressively added flights back to schedules, only to be met with operational struggles this summer, including weather and technical outages that have led to delays, cancellations and disruptions to crew schedules.
“Our operation cannot support additional business until we have the crews and planes to safely fly it,” the letter said.
Flight attendants also said their schedules are constantly being shuffled and that they are working many “absurdly” extended days that “not only put us at more risk for illness and infection, but also are a threat to customers by demanding that beleaguered flight attendants do ‘just one more’ 18-hour duty day.”
The flight attendants union said it is worried that Southwest is adding more flights to schedules in September even after recent struggles. Last month, Kelly acknowledged that Southwest was struggling this summer with operations.
“Normal summer demand is always the challenge to manage, he said. “And it’s, of course, even moreso here in 2021, especially in June when we had technology issues and bad weather combined and made it very difficult. Things are much better in July, but still not where I want us to be.”