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‘Herb is probably shedding a tear:’ Southwest flight attendants picket

Date: March 6, 2023

By Alexandra Skores, Dallas Morning News

Southwest Airlines flight attendants pressed executives to fix the technology problems that contributed to the December meltdown during an informational picket for a new contract Thursday at Dallas Love Field.

Picketers stood along Herb Kelleher Way with signs that read “Southwest Airlines, it’s time. Make it right,” and a screen loading sign that said “Another victim of SWA’s outdated technology.” Chants erupted periodically for 2 hours straight, with the Transport Workers Union bus making an appearance.

“Herb is probably shedding a tear right now about what’s going on,” said Michael Massoni, vice president of Transport Workers Union Local 556 and a Phoenix-based flight attendant for Southwest . “He’s not shedding a tear in anger towards us. I think he’s shedding a tear and anger toward management of Southwest Airlines right now. I’m sure he wants them to make it right as bad as we do.”

Southwest has been under fire from travelers since the meltdown when 16,700 flights were canceled in the final days of December during the busy holiday travel period. The disruptions in December paralyzed travel for more than a week before and after Christmas as about 2 million passengers lost seats on flights. Bad weather combined with fragile crew scheduling systems shut down most of the country’s largest domestic airline.

Massoni said the technology disruption failed Southwest’s employees and flight attendants as well as customers.

“Informational picketing is common during times of contract negotiations, and Southwest respects our flight attendants’ right to conduct such events to express their viewpoints,” said Adam Carlisle, Southwest’s vice president of labor relations. “We remain engaged in negotiations with TWU 556 and the National Mediation Board to achieve a new contract that rewards our flight attendants and allows us to continue attracting great talent.”

Southwest’s operations chief Andrew Watterson was questioned by lawmakers in Washington on Feb. 9. He vocalized that a fix was coming to the carrier’s crew scheduling software that same week.

“We are out here to once again, implore Southwest Airlines to make it right and again, make it right by their people, including our flight attendants, and make it right to the flying public,” Massoni said. “What happened in December is completely unacceptable.”

The disruptions add more leverage to Southwest Airlines’ flight attendants’ contract negotiations, according to Massoni.

“It is proven now, without beyond a shadow of a doubt that they failed us,” Massoni said. “By not listening to us for over a decade now. We’ve been telling them they need to get their technological house in order. They didn’t listen to us.”

After reporting an $800 million hit, refunding and reimbursing customers, and facing a Department of Transportation inquiry for potentially overscheduling flights, Watterson apologized at the Senate hearing.

“Let me be clear: we messed up,” said a draft of prepared Senate testimony from Watterson viewed by The Dallas Morning News. “In hindsight, we did not have enough winter operational resilience.”

The legend of Southwest’s colorful co-founder and longtime executive Herb Kelleher was also mentioned in the hearing, with a lawmaker pointing out that Kelleher would have been at the hearing had he still be around, alluding to the absence of Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan.

The union is also pushing for improvements such as boarding pay and compensation during trips that are extended by delays.

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