There’s a new safety concern regarding Southwest Airlines. The airline’s union warns tired pilots are starting to become a big problem.
In an open letter to Southwest’s CEO Robert Jordan, union leaders say pilot fatigue is becoming an epidemic within the company. The letter states the issue began in the summer of 2021, when passenger counts started increasing after the COVID-19 collapse. Since then, as travel numbers begin to creep up toward pre-pandemic levels, the problem of pilot fatigue is only getting worse, according to the union.
The South Airlines Pilots Association is blaming poor scheduling and low staffing for the pilot fatigue issue, pointing to a rising number of instances of pilots asking to be relieved from a flight because of tiredness. March 2022 saw a 330 percent jump in pilot-reported fatigue compared to the same pre-pandemic timeframe. And April is shaping up to be the same. “April is already setting fatigue records,” they said. “Fatigue, both acute and cumulative, has become Southwest Airlines’ number-one safety threat.”
Southwest Airlines is acknowledging the March increase but is attributing it to weather-related issues disrupting travel schedules. The airline’s spokeswoman said before that the airline saw “a significant and steady decline” since the company made several changes back in November 2021.
Like many airlines, Southwest saw a massive decline in staffing during the height of the pandemic, when air travel was at a near standstill. Since then, as travel continues to pick up, Southwest is hiring thousands of pilots, but the union says the company still needs more in order to be adequately staffed for the current flight load.
Right now, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association is negotiating with the airline for a new contract.