Over 1,500 pilots and airline workers picketed outside Love Field Tuesday in what the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) called the “largest aviation picket ever.”
Pilots lined up along Mockingbird Lane outside the airport entrance just after 9 a.m. and held a silent protest until about noon.
Captain Casey Murray, SWAPA president, told The Dallas Express that over 1,350 Southwest pilots, a few hundred support staff, and pilots for other airlines showed up in person. An additional 2,000 signed their names to a “virtual picket” for those who could not attend in person.
The goal of the “informational picket,” according to Murray, was to help push along contract negotiations.
SWAPA is pushing for new contracts that will address the organizational structure that “connects pilots to planes,” Murray said.
He added that Southwest’s efficiency, which it prides itself on, has devolved in recent years, leading to increased delays and cancellations.
“We want our guests to know we share in their frustrations,” Murray said. “We’re tired of apologizing to them and apologizing for Southwest.”
Murray said pilots feel other frustrations, too.
“We’re delayed. We’re going to where we’re not scheduled to. An eight-to-10-hour day stretches to 14 hours, 15 hours,” Murray added.
Pilot staffing is a dynamic situation, according to Murray. Under Southwest’s current system, a storm rolling through a major city has a cascading effect that can take days to fix.
“When we’re seeing three-, four-, five-day recovery times, that really speaks to the problems they’re having,” Murray said. “It’s something we’ve never seen before.”
Murray wants to see additional pilots hired, but said that fix would take care of “tomorrow’s” staffing issues. He maintains that Southwest has the pilots to take care of “today” and wants to see those pilots used more efficiently.
System inefficiency has led to overwork and fatigue, Murray says.
A point of pride for SWAPA is that pilots routinely pick up shifts for their peers voluntarily. Murray went as far as to say it is the model upon which Southwest is built.
However, he said that from Summer 2021 to March 2022, pilots lost over 20,000 days off due to involuntary staffing.
Murray said that fatigue influences pilots when they decide on whether to take a shift. When fatigue leads to a pilot missing a shift, other pilots are reassigned, which compounds the inefficiencies that Murray sees in the system.
Southwest Airlines released a statement saying negotiations are ongoing with the Pilots Association.
The travel industry behemoth told The Dallas Express in a further statement Tuesday that it was aware of the picket and that it respects the rights of its employees to express their opinions.
“For 51 years, we’ve maintained a legendary Southwest Culture that honors our valued Employees,” the statement read.
The airline noted it did not expect the picket to cause any service disruptions.
SWAPA took measures to avoid causing delays with the picket. On the event invitation, organizers made it clear that pilots were not to call in sick for the event, nor should they miss scheduled shifts to participate.
Murray expects to see some movement in negotiations after Tuesday’s events. He said they would be back in the negotiating room Wednesday.