The Southwest Airlines flight attendant union has filed a formal complaint with the carrier’s management over face mask flouting pilots and had demanded Southwest starts to take disciplinary action against rule-breakers.
The union that represents pilots at the Dallas-based airline has responded to the allegations by warning ita members that ‘tribalism’ is spreading like ‘wildfire’ through the company and that some unnamed workgroups are filing complaints against pilots ‘at a lever never-seen-before’.
The dispute is yet another sign of the increasingly fraught and sometimes violent relationship between flight attendants and pilots at the airline. Last October, a Southwest pilot was cited by police after allegedly assaulting a flight attendant in a dispute over face masks.
That incident led to a serious rebuke from Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly who put employees on notice that unacceptable behavior would no longer be tolerated by the airline.
But the TWU Local 556 union which represents flight attendants has recently written to airline bosses to complain about mask flouting pilots. The union’s leaders passed a vote of no confidence against Southwest’s president of flight operations, Bob Waltz who is in charge of the airline’s pilots over the issue according to the Dallas Morning News.
Writing about their role in enforcing the controversial federal face mask mandate, the union said: “We have proudly handled the divisive issue of mask mandates in a professional manner, only to encounter a mask compliance situation with Southwest Airlines pilots.”
Pilots are exempt from wearing a face mask in the flight deck as it may hinder communication and could delay them from putting on an oxygen mask in the event of depressurization or a smoke, odor or fume event.
Outside of the flight deck, though, pilots are meant to wear a face mask just like everyone else. Last October’s incident allegedly occurred in a hotel bar during a layover when a flight attendant challenged a pilot about wearing a face mask.
“Discipline for infractions by flight attendants is harsher and much less forgiving for what is sometimes the exact same violation,” the union has complained. “What may be a proverbial slap on the wrist for a pilot is termination for a flight attendant.”
The SWAPA pilots union responded to the vote of no confidence by warning pilots to get ‘objective witnesses’ when “conditions require a discussion with internal or external customers”.
“Once that forward entry door closes, we are all one team and must continue to work as such. Pilots must always remain level-headed and let things roll off our shoulders,” the memo seen by Kyle Arnold noted.
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.