Ted S. Warren / AP
After Southwest Airlines has pulled planes and canceled hundreds of flights, Southwest Airlines apologizes to the travelers – and blames the union representing technicians for aircraft maintenance.
Last week, the Dallas-based airline shut down more than 40 out of some 750 aircraft at four locations in the southwest, causing flight delays and cancellations. As a result, the company declared an operational emergency.
The unprecedented number of grounded aircraft followed a CBS investigation highlighting the complaints of industrial mechanics allegedly pressured to overlook potential safety concerns in order to re-deploy aircraft service quickly.
A CBS memo to the company's mechanics showed a call for everyone on deck and the possibility that maintenance workers might be "fired" for unexcused absences. It also gave the airline the opportunity to allocate longer hours to their employees and change jobs.
Chief executive Mike Van de Ven said in a statement on Tuesday that all hands should be alerted to safely return the aircraft to the fleet. He said the issues had occurred "despite any changes in our maintenance programs, without leadership changes and without changes in our policies and procedures."
Van de Ven combined the mess with the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, with which the carrier has been involved in negotiations for wages and benefits for years. He said the union "has a history of work disruptions," leading to two Southwest-pending lawsuits.
The national director of the union, Bret Oestreich, struck back. "Southwest Airline's scapegoat for its seasoned Aircraft Maintenance Technicians is not a good sign for the airline's safe operation," he said.
Oestreich claimed that mechanics worked overtime, but that the airline had the lowest ratio between mechanics and aircraft of a major airline.
He said the link between operational emergencies and union bargaining was an attempt to divert attention from security issues.
He added, "We now face further coercive measures through litigation."
In 2017, Southwest sued the union for overtime boycott. The complaint found that a concerted refusal to accept overtime could result in "waiver or late maintenance, extension of third-party use and potential delay or cancellation of flights".
This lawsuit was suspended because of a premature contract with the company The union, but the proposed contract was later rejected by the AMFA, reports Bloomberg.
Lynn Lunsford, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, told NPR that the oversight is increasing "standard practice" while airlines are working on labor issues. "That's why the FAA tightened control over Southwest during that time."
The FAA began in February 2018 with Southwest's investigation into baggage weight and balance data errors. "The FAA will not complete its investigation until it is satisfied that Southwest's corrective action is consistent and sustainable," Lunsford said.
An obviously angry customer from the Southwest came to Instagram over the weekend as delays and cancellations got bigger and bigger. "This is a ridiculous service and I will not need this airline anymore," the person said. "At this time horse and cart would be faster."