A group of Southwest Airlines pilots marched out of an employee rally in Baltimore on Wednesday evening in front of embattled chief executive Bob Jordan and as coworkers energetically clapped and cheered them on.
Pilots at the Dallas-based carrier have been highly critical of their employer over last December’s operational meltdown that stranded tens of thousands of passengers and cost the carrier more than $800 million.
The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) hasn’t yet officially commented on the walkout but an internal spokesperson has attempted to downplay the apparent protest.
In fact, the airline says Jordan and chief operating officer Andrew Watterson joined in the applause and thanked the audience for cheering on “the best pilots in the world”.
“It was incredibly classy all round,” the airline said.
Watterson is due to testify in the U.S. Congress on Thursday as the Senate Commerce Committee holds an investigation into Southwest’s operational woes last Christmas. He is expected to tell Congress that Southwest “messed up” and that, in hindsight, the airline didn’t have enough winter operational resilience to recover from a storm.
SWAPA president Captain Casey Murray, however, will tell Congress that the operational meltdown had more to do with the airline’s ageing IT systems – an issue that pilots had been warning Southwest about for years.
“Pilots have been sounding the alarm for years about Southwerst’s outdated crew scheduling and IT processes and they have been summarily ignored,” Murray will say.
During the meltdown, Southwest’s scheduling and planning teams allegedly descended into chaos and lost track of whether individual employees were – in fact, at one point, pilots flying planes were asked to confirm their names and staff numbers at 38,000 feet because the airline didn’t know who was flying its planes.
Watterson will tell lawmakers that last December’s meltdown was a “historic event” and that the carrier was now investing in new IT systems to replace antiquated scheduling programs.
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.