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Southwest Airlines Stands Behind Decision to Terminate Captain Who Was Piloting Plane That Suffered an Engine Fire

Southwest Airlines Stands Behind Decision to Terminate Captain Who Was Piloting Plane That Suffered an Engine Fire

a blue airplane in the air

A Southwest Airlines Captain who was the commander of a Boeing 737 which suffered an engine fire just moments after takeoff from Houston Hobby Airport in August 2023 claims the airline set about trying to terminate him because he is a “person of color” and spoke an “unacceptable language” when he addressed his passengers in Spanish.

Veteran aviator David Legeros says he has spent his career mentoring underrepresented groups of people to fly aircraft and succeed in achieving employment with Southwest, which is still dominated by a “supermajority of white male pilots”, but his career now risks being ‘crippled’ by the airline.

On August 15, 2023, Legeros was the commander of Southwest flight WN307 with scheduled service from Houston Hobby to Cancun. Shortly after takeoff, however, the right-hand engine burst into flames and sustained “severe damage”.

With flames clearly visible from inside the cabin, Legeros says the passengers were “unsurprisingly terrified” by what was unfolding, and to make matters worse, Legeros feared the engine could detach from the aircraft and “effectively become a missile aimed at Houston”.

This fear prompted Legeros to leave the First Officer flying the airplane while he worked with air traffic control to arrange an emergency return to Houston and communicate with the passengers.

It is this decision that Legeros says landed him in hot water with airline management because Southwest’s standard operating procedures mandate that the Captain should take control of the aircraft in the event of an emergency situation.

Legeros reasoned, however, that if he had suddenly taken control, the airplane could have suddenly jolted, detaching the flaming engine onto the ground below. Instead, he decided to communicate with the passengers in both English and Spanish while leaving the First Officers at the controls.

After the plane landed safely back in Houston, Lengeros says he once again spoke to the passengers in Spanish and English, this time reassuring them that the situation was under control and preventing a disorderly and potentially dangerous evacuation via the emergency slides.

“Had SWA (Southwest Airlines) decided to reward Mr. Legeros, or even ignore him, following his heroics, this story would be over, but SWA decided to punish him,” Legeros writes in an application for an injunction against the airline filed in a New York district court late last month.

“Incredibly, instead of accolades, on September 19, 2023, SWA held a meeting to discuss Mr. Legeros’s conduct during Flight WN307, and after ‘conducting a thorough investigation; SWA found that Mr. Legeros ‘engaged in serious misconduct’,” the application continues.

“Instead of immediate termination for the sin of safely getting a flaming aircraft to the tarmac, Mr. Legeros was forced to sign a ‘Last Chance Agreement’ with a myriad of extraordinary requirements for his ‘retraining program.'”

Legeros claims Southwest has been looking to push him out and decided to use the events of August 15, 2023, to get rid of him. Shortly after the meeting in September 2023, Legeros was grounded and, in January 2024, he was told that Southwest wanted to conduct a psychological evaluation known as a Fitness For Duty or FFD evaluation on him.

“There are few better ways to remove an irritating pilot than to develop a medical record that purports to diagnose said pilot as insane,” Legeros’ lawsuit reads. “SWA frequently employs these FFDs with a preordained result to remove pilots that they decide are particularly sticky.”

Legeros couldn’t attend the originally scheduled FFD as his father was in hospital but before another evaluation could be arranged, Southwest ordered him into a meeting with the airline’s Chief Pilot at which he would be given the opportunity to resign or be terminated.

Southwest has declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit as litigation is pending, but in a statement, company spokesperson Lynn Lunsford said Southwest stood behind its decision to fire Legaros.

“Southwest expects all of its Pilots to follow procedures and policies that exist to protect the safety of our Customers and Employees,” the airline said in a statement.

“Southwest stands behind its decision to dismiss Mr. Legeros and will respond to any claims in the appropriate forum.”

    View Comments (43)
    • There is really no way to ascertain what is the real truth of the situation unless we, the public, would have significantly more information. Did this pilot have other things on his record that make him suspect? Does he have judgement or mental health issues? What is the actual basis for the decision of SW…..not just his side of the story? While I can understand that he should have likely taken the controls from SW regulations, it seems far fetched that his speaking Spanish and English or his race would have affected this decision to terminate. Not showing up for a mental health evaluation and refusal to sign a retraining agreement might have been more the reason for termination. As a passenger, I would always want an airline to be looking out for me FIRST if there is any question as to a pilot’s judgement or fitness.

      • I’m a paralegal for an international grocery chain. We have a lawyer in our firm that does nothing but respond to race discrimination lawsuits. We have litigated hundreds and hundreds and not one allegation was ever proven true by numerous courts or juries. It’s a scam that blacks pull when they get terminated for just reasons. It’s because they are taught that whining about race discrimination will get them anything they want, especially when the media gets involved.

        • I beg your pardon, Karen. Not every African American does this. But I’m not surprised a (I’m guessing) white women would say such a thing. And if you’re not a white woman, shame on you.

          • You are correct only in saying “not every African American does this.” She did not even say that! But every one that claims racism IS African American……. No other race gets to use your word, “racism”. So…. Just who is the KAREN here? YOU are…..

          • She never stated or even implied that “ every black “ does this. However any black or other minority is aware of the power of claiming discrimination and the fear of costs and an adverse ruling from administrative judges and there are those who use it to their advantage
            The same applies to other “ protected classes “ of ALL races. I’ve personally seen ( as an attorney ) dozens of sex and age discrimination claims made when the termination was due to many instances of misconduct and poor performance

            • She says EXACTLY that! Re-read her comment, for crying out loud. She said Blacks do this. Not ‘some’ Blacks. Wow. Your bias is showing. And you cannot See that. Yes, some people, SOME, do attempt to take advantage of the current societal sensitivity to racism , sexism and ageism. ‘Some’ people lie and cheat. ‘Some’ people also murder and rape. ‘Some’ belong to criminal organizations that extort and murder. But to ASSume, to Believe, everyone of a particular group does these horrible things is simply Crazy and reveals You, and her for who and how you are. Might as well be walking around with a sign on your backs. How can you, as an (alleged) attorney fairly represent Anyone when you bring your own bias into the equation??? You Cannot!

        • Wow!! First off, the person in the story is Hispanic. Second off, youll never know if something is valid or not if it’s not brought up. Thank you for showing your racism. As a white person I’m sure you have never experienced racial discrimination. However, I have and let me tell you, I could have done a lawsuit but chose not to waste my time with a bigot. White women and their white tears seem to get the most attention.

          • Mrs. April I agree with you, but I know him and he’s not Hispanic. He just has a Hispanic last name. And he is definitely not black either, so maybe that will shut up the hillbillies that hate blacks and Latinos at least.

        • You say your company has litigated hundreds and hundreds, and not ONE was ever proven true? So, who is “teaching them that whining will get them anything they want?” It seems like the story within your story is 🐂 💩.

          I’m more willing to bet that you haven’t got a clue of what you are talking about. It’s a scam that whites pull in comment sections on any story. The say racist schitz to get a rise out of decent, non-racist people.

        • Wow. That is So unfair And unkind of you, Heartless, and shows just Who and How You and your firm is. You’re saying racial discrimination does Not Exist?? And ALL people of color who complain of it are simply using this as a way to ‘get over’ and take advantage? Shame on you! You, are very obviously biased yourself and do not, Cannot and Will Not admit that systemic racism exists, and has existed, Forever!, and has caused the maltreatment, sometimes in extreme and proven cases historically of people being wrongly jailed, for Decades, and sometimes even Put To Death, Only because of their race. Those are only 2 examples of a documented Fact. I feel sorry for You. You are part of the Real problem, that has occurred for hundreds of years and is experienced Every Day, by many people of color.. Only because of their perceived race and/or skin color. The statistical likelihood of not one case being valid is infinitesimal. Impossible! I would suggest you do some serious research except it is glaringly clear Your mind is made up and that you couldn’t see Truth if it jumped up and bit you in the ass. I will pray for you. You are a lost soul, who Chooses not to See the real Suffering this kind of systemic unfairness, injustice has caused or have Any compassion for what some live with every, single day of their lives, from the cradle to the grave.. This, YOU, break my heart. I pray your eyes, And heart, if you even have one, will be opened. And, I Gusrantee, have yourself, personally even witnessed examples of unfair treatment based Solely on the perception of the race of a person. This is precisely how it became systemic, Accepted. You Choose not to See. Your inability to recognize this kind of Pain is beyond sad. It is morally reprehensible. What is especially heartbreaking is that You ate a woman . Women have and continue to experience much the same treatment, not because of any deficit of character but Only because they were born with a vagina. Wow. Shame on you.

          • Actually, I’ve been targeted at my profession, as a WOMAN! But I never pulled that card. And to assume that’s the reason he got fired is absurd! EVERYONE NEEDS TO JUST SHUT THE HELL UP ABOUT THIS RACISM CRAP! We do nt need to move backwards! If everyone turned their attention to the real problem( our corrupt government) we wouldn’t be arguing with eachother! We need to stand together, help eachother, and go after the real culprit of all this crap. If we unite, they can’t win…..and then we ALL WIN! We need to stop this nonsense!

      • EXACTLY!! My husband is a former pilot for Southwest Airlines having just recently retired. The things this Pilot is saying do not lineup! He sounds like he has some mental issues and should not be flying an airplane! And like you, I am certain there are many things that led to that decision! He obviously did not follow procedures and was offered solutions to help him keep his job, both of which he rejected. Another great way to be fired by SWA is to lie when called into a meeting. I cannot speak to that, but from the other claims he is making, I have little doubt it could well be a factor. Additionally, I am certain the FO’s account of the actual events, along with cockpit voice recorder has come heavily into play in the decision.
        Also, this happened in Texas, and SWA is a Texas based company. SWA has no pilot bases in the entire state of New York, so why is this being filed there?? New York has zero to do with this entire incident! From the claims he is making, I for one am glad I will never have to be concerned that he is behind the controls.

        • Undoubtedly you are a white folk who can’t possibly know WTF you’re blabbing about, stop with the whiteplaning it ain’t working. Just because it never happened to your pasty partner doesn’t mean it didn’t happen to him . You need to mind the business that pays you , move along snowbunny.

          • Exactly….
            This man worked to calm a planeload of terrified panic stricken passengers and ATC people to successfully get the aircraft down with zero casualties. Yet somehow in the minds of white Anglo racists
            HE’S crazy !!
            Hmmmm….Were all the necessary preflight engine checks carried out that would catch any problems that could result in an engine failure while airborne??

          • That’s right Helen, but they’ll cluster and create a 🐂💩 story, pass it down, and rebrand it to be the perfect example of their supremacy.

      • Agreed. Since he did not take control of the plane as the commanding office in an emergency seems suspect that he didn’t feel confident in his ability. To leave that in the hands of a Junior pilot is not protocol and is grounds for termination but since he is a man of color in this day and age they offered him significant training to keep his job but that wasn’t good enough for him. Sorry but if this happened to a while male he would be fired end of story!

      • I didn’t read an option to retrain. Could you have misread resign?
        Anyho, we don’t know the entire story, however as a black female I know the difficulties of making it in dominantly white environment.
        When most rules and protocols are created they are derived from an hypothetical scenario. The people making and enforcing the rules are not around when emergencies arises so their play by play may not be the best way to proceed .
        It’s a blessing things turned out as they didn’t; no casualties or injuries. Best wishes for the pilot.
        Lastly,, the airlines must do better at maintaining their planes.

    • It’s hard to say what the correct course of action would have been without knowing all the facts. If you have a copilot that you trust, and you as a pilot understand the navigation of your aircraft, why wouldn’t you hand over control. Maybe firing Legeros wasn’t the proper approach. Retraining a competent pilot who made a split minute decision, maybe that’s the correct course of action. I’d rather have a pilot who can make decisions in mid flight, than one who has no idea on what to do.

      • I agree and I’ve always heard that in emergencies the Captain makes the decision! He’s in charge.. And all worked out well. If he has a bad history then man up and fire him no matter what color his skin is…I’m sure SWA will call me and say “You know, you are right”

    • This will be an interesting case. IF the aircraft is controllable and under control, some captains will delegate the flying to the FO in an emergency situation such as this. This gives the captain the opportunity to assess the situation and, using CRM, determine the best course of action. I’ve briefed my FOs that “Most likely, I’ll turn the flying over to you while I assess the situation. If you will fly the jet and handle the comm, I’ll try to figure out what’s going on. With your input, we (note WE) will decide the best course of action. IF at any time I decide to take the back the controls, we’ll use positive transfer and then I’ll let you run the radios and everything else.” This is the LONG briefing for the first rotation with a FO. I just hit the high points on each leg. I will then talk to the ATC and then the FA’s first to apprise them of what’s going on so that they can prepare accordingly. Then I will make an announcement to the passengers. The other curious thing is that SWA criticizes the captain for speaking in Spanish. That’s odd because a multi-lingual announcement would be beneficial to the passengers. Now SWA doesn’t fly to Europe but on my airline, the safety announcements are made in English and the country of origin/destination. The flight attendants, if they are multi-lingual will also address the passengers in that language.

      • Agree
        Making the announcement in both languages was the right thing to do considering he has both people aboard. Why should that even be an issue? Cancun is a Mexican country! He sounds like a hero to me!

        • Most passengers going to Cancun are English speaking Americans. If one of the city pairs was Lima, Peru, or Cali, Colombia, Spanish might be appropriate, although most every airline would have a language speaker assigned as part of the cabin crew.

      • I flew for Southwest as a flight attendant, now retired. Captain Legeros is a wonderful compassionate and educated man…and a terrific pilot. I’ve flown with him many times and trust his decision to deviate from protocol, because all pilots are trained to handle these situations. I’m sure he was confident in his co-pilot. I think there’s a lot more to this scenario that isn’t being told. I hope he knows that not all accept what management does…so keep fighting!!!

    • This guy is a clown. He does not need to be flying passengers on ANY commercial aircraft. He was a clown at Air Tran and now he’s a bigger clown. By the way, contrary to moron’s statements, he did NOT have an engine fire. It was a compressor stall. Good job Southwest! Hold the standard and do not accept loud mouthed, substandard performances.

      • Where does your information about his career at AirTran come from? Is there an official record about the problem actually being a compressor stall rather than an engine fire? What is your basis for stating that he is a MORON?

      • Well ok Jennifer, I was afraid of that and I just defended him, by saying the Captain is always in control and he or she can let copilot handle back to airport, but if he is a clown and I believe you, they should have fired him when he started acting like a clown earlier…just saying…

    • Does everyone follow “SOP’s” and what else is in his “Personal Files” with Southwest Airlines for his termination.

    • This sounds anti White. He has a problem with Whites being a super majority at an airline. That’s atrocious. If he were in Japan, would he have a problem with the super majority of pilots being Japanese? How about if he were in India, would he point out a supermajority of pilots are Indian. He violated a strict policy in an emergency situation and was reprimanded with strict requirements for him to get back into good standing.

      • Another knuckle dragging neanderthal talking bullshit. So your inbred ass was there right , bitch move to the left your irrelevant ass need to STFU, your ignorance is blinding

    • If the facts of this case are as presented, I completely support SWA. Airlines have detailed policies and procedures in place for reasons. The pilot violated protocol and his reasoning for doing so doesn’t sound justified. Granted the plane landed safely. That was likely attributed to a competent first officer. However, Mr. Legeros’ reasoning for handing off controls to the First Officer still doesn’t seem prudent. If policies allowed for pilots to exercise greater discretion during emergencies, then he might have had a better chance explaining and convincing the airline about why he took the actions he did.

      • I agree! The captain did not follow Southwest’s procedure. He made the copilot deal with controlling the plane instead of himself. This is the problem.

    • SWA procedure is that the Captain is required to land the aircraft if there is an engine shut down. This is not negotiable. He conveniently left that part out. Up to that point, it may be entirely appropriate and indeed safer to have the First Officer fly the aircraft and take care of the communications with ATC. The rest of his histrionic screed is nonsense. And he had a choice — retrain or resign, and he figured he’d go for the media pathos and try this in the Court of Public Opinion. Which may or may be the right choice in the end. But he doesn’t need to be flying anymore, because of his history or toxicity and his proclivity to throw around cards and ‘isms. Good riddance.

      • Lol you inept bitches always have something negative to say without knowing what the fuck really happened , should he have just let the fucking airplane crash?? Then you maga heads would say he’s incompetent, fuck you dumbass goofy motherfucker.

    • I have worked with this Captain for over 20 years. He has never been anything less than the kindest, respectful and most thoughtful human to everyone he worked with. He is always exceptionally professional and not one of these guys with a cowboy mentality. Believe me there are plenty of them around. If he did not follow procedures in order to maintain the safety of the aircraft there must have been a damn good reason why. In the end the captain has final say over the ship in order to ensure safety, that is what he did. Aviation follows maritime law.

    • I too have worked with the Captain in question for two decades as a pilot at AirTran and subsequently SWA. He was/is indeed very kind and likable. He’s also VERY skilled at doing stupid s__t and getting into situations that put him in trouble. There have been numerous things that he’s done over the years that leave one shaking their head. I mean really stupid s__t.

    • Remember folks, this is only the complaint/story of the Captain, which was greatly “supplemented” by his attorney who specializes in shaking down big companies by trying to make everything about race. There’s definitely a LOT more to this story, but we won’t be hearing it because Southwest is going to stay quiet while the case is pending.

    • This isn’t the movies. It’s common protocol at most (if not all) airlines to keep the pilot flying as the pilot flying in an emergency and the pilot monitoring works the systems and emergency/abnormal procedures. In fact, when it’s the Captain’s flying leg (they always alternate PF and PM duties), it’s often prudent to transfer controls to the First Officer so he or she can fly while the Captain works on troubleshooting the systems of the aircraft. (And this allows for a less mentally taxed decision making process also)

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