DALLAS (AP) — Union officials say Southwest Airlines pilots are suffering from an epidemic of fatigue due to poor airline scheduling practices and that it is raising safety concerns.
Union leaders said Tuesday in an open letter to Southwest CEO Robert Jordan and other executives that the troubles began last summer when the number of travelers returned to near normal pre-pandemic levels and has been getting worse.
The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, which is currently negotiating a new deal with the airline, said the number of pilots who wanted to be relieved from a flight assignment because of fatigue was up 330 in March compared to the same month in the years before the pandemic % gone up.
“April is already setting fatigue records,” they said. “Fatigue, both acute and cumulative, has become Southwest Airlines’ number one safety threat.”
Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King said the airline had seen a “significant and steady decline” in pilots calling tired after the airline made flight schedule changes in November. She said the increase in March was expected as weather-related flight cancellations disrupted schedules.
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King said the spike in fatigue calls in March shows the system is working and that the airline is letting pilots determine if they are too tired to fly.
Last summer, Dallas-based Southwest, the country’s fourth-largest airline, was plagued by flight cancellations, in part due to staff shortages. The airline responded by hiring several thousand employees, executives said.
Airlines persuaded thousands of employees to quit during the worst of the pandemic after air travel plummeted and airline revenues plummeted. Since then, travel has increased – US air passengers topped 2 million per day in March, nearly 90% of pre-pandemic numbers. Unions at Southwest and other airlines have urged their companies to hire more pilots.
In recent days, JetBlue Airways said it would cut some flights this summer over staffing issues, and Alaska Airlines has blamed a spike in cancellations and delays on a pilot shortage.
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