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Southwest pilots union weighs holiday airport pickets

Date: August 18, 2021

By Leslie Josephs, CNBC

  • Southwest pilots’ union says it is considering informational pickets in the fourth quarter.
  • The union and its counterpart at American Airlines have complained about a lack of hotels, food options and poor scheduling.
  • Southwest’s flight attendants have also complained about conditions on the road recently.

Southwest Airlines pilots union is considering picketing at U.S. airports over Thanksgiving and Christmas to protest what it described as a frenetic increase in schedules, among other complaints, its president told CNBC on Thursday.

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association told members in a video late Wednesday that it was weighing pickets and demanded the company address scheduling and fatigue. Casey Murray, president of the pilots union, said the company schedule means pilots are working additional shifts with little notice.

The union’s message highlights the increasing tensions between Southwest’s pilots as well its flight attendants and the company over the airline’s push to ramp up flying to meet a revival in travel demand following the pandemic slump. American Airlines pilot and flight attendant unions have also complained this summer about a lack of food and hotels and poor scheduling.

Airline staffing shortages this summer have exacerbated flight disruptions for tens of thousands of travelers.

“Southwest Airlines has always strived to put our people first. This summer, the airline and travel industry have seen a multitude of operational challenges as we navigate the effects of the pandemic,” Bob Waltz, Southwest’s vice president of flight operations, said in a statement. “We routinely work with the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association on a variety of matters that affect our pilots, but we also have a responsibility to consider a number of factors before implementation of suggestions.”

Southwest this week started offering referral bonuses worth $300 to staff because it’s struggling to hire new employees, CNBC reported Wednesday.

“We have experienced technology failures, severe understaffing and operational failures that are completely out of our control, yet we suffer the sometimes violent frustration of our customers as the face of Southwest Airlines,” wrote the executive board of the flight attendants union, TWU Local 556, to Southwest CEO Gary Kelly on Tuesday.

Southwest said it was aware of the flight attendants’ concerns.

“The safety of our Employees and Customers comes first, at all times, and that continues to be the priority in everything that we do,” Sonya Lacore, the airline’s vice president of inflight operations, said in a statement. “We are aware of the concerns the TWU 556 raised in their letter, and there is much work already underway to address many of the issues this summer.”

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