Southwest Airlines has apologized to employees for the “significant strain” that its packed summer schedule, coupled with months of weather delays and staff shortages have put them under. Flight attendants at the Dallas-based carrier say they are “weary, exhausted and they can’t take any more”.
Like other airlines, Southwest quickly expanded its schedule as travel demand bounced back much faster than anyone in the industry had been anticipating. The airline says it had to take advantage of the sudden increase in demand in order to generate some much-needed income but accepts its operation has been tough on staffers.
Chief operating officer, Mike Van de Ven told staff in a new memo that the sudden increase in bookings had been a welcome change “but we have to be honest with ourselves: it’s also taken a toll on our operation and put a significant strain on all of you. And for that, I am sincerely sorry.”
The memo said Southwest was “continuing to evaluate our fourth quarter flight schedules, and we’re taking a serious look at flight levels to ensure that our flying aligns with the staffing needed to operate within this more complicated COVID environment.”
Southwest recently lowered its guidance as demand cools due to delta variant concerns. Increasing numbers of Americans are worried they might catch COVID-19 and are delaying or cancelling travel plans until infection numbers begin to drop.
The Southwest flight attendants union says it has been trying to “sound the alarm for months” over gruelling work schedules that have left its members exhausted and at “breaking point”.
“Some of us – far too many of us – are sick,” the letter sent to Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly by the Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 556 Executive Branch on Tuesday says.
“We have been asked to work through a myriad of unacceptable circumstances: lack of food, accommodation and transportation challenges, inconsistency in policies, and knowing that when we report for duty we are subject to being extended well into our days off,” the letter continued.
“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. We need support in any and every way possible.”
Southwest pilots claim they have been experiencing similar issues. The union said it is even considering holding pickets over Thanksgiving and Christmas to protest what it sees as unacceptable working conditions.
Van de Ven tried to reassure pilots and flight attendants, saying Southwest wouldn’t be “following our traditional staffing models as we reevaluate where we are in October, November, and December.”
“You come first,” Van de Ven continued.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.