Southwest leaders blame mechanics for slow traffic while travelers wait it out

Listen to the Southwest 1380 pilot talk to air control after engine catches fire en route to Dallas

Hear the pilot of Southwest flight 1380 communicate with air traffic control after one of the engines of the plane catches fire. The flight, which was heading from New York City to Dallas, made an emergency landing in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
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Hear the pilot of Southwest flight 1380 communicate with air traffic control after one of the engines of the plane catches fire. The flight, which was heading from New York City to Dallas, made an emergency landing in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

Travelers with Southwest Airlines are cautioned to check flight availability with the airline due to the number of cancellations and delays because of weather and maintenance issues.

While flights out of Love Field in Dallas are marginally effected, Southwest Airlines has canceled 444 flights and delayed another 662 systemwide, according to FlightAware live flight tracking.

FlightAware showed that 23 of those Southwest flight cancellations and 156 delays were out of Love Field for Wednesday. But as of 3:30 p.m., officials on the ground at Love Field reported one flight cancellation and 10 flight delays, according to Christopher Perry, Love Field Airport spokesman.

None of the delays were for more than an hour, Perry said. Southwest scheduled about 88 percent of the flights out of Love Field on Wednesday, Perry said. Southwest contends the majority of the flight interruptions are due to weather.

Southwest Airlines has been working through issues with mechanical problems on its aircraft since Friday, according to published reports.

“We experienced an unprecedented number of out-of-service aircraft in four specific maintenance locations despite no change in our maintenance programs, no changes in leadership, and no changes in our policies and procedures,” according to a statement Southwest Airlines officials issued Tuesday.

“We are committed to operating a safe fleet, and every report is investigated, which is why we issued a notice to require an ‘all hands’ response to get out-of-service aircraft back into the fleet serving our Customers,” the statement said.

Southwest Airlines has been meeting and negotiating with the mechanics union — the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) — that represents nearly 2,400 mechanics, for more than six years, according to the statement by airline officials.

“AMFA has a history of work disruptions, and Southwest has two pending lawsuits against the union,” the statement said. “We will be investigating this current disruption and exploring all possible remedies. Southwest prides itself on its reliability and works hard each day to get its Customers where they want to go.“

In response, the union issued a statement saying that Southwest Airlines’ scapegoating of its expert aircraft maintenance technicians does not bode well for safe operations.

“Safety is, and always will be, our number one priority,” the statement from the union said. “For Southwest’s leadership to connect the airline’s self-declared ‘operational emergency’ to collective bargaining negotiations is simply an attempt to divert attention away from the airline’s safety issues.“

This fight is not the only worry Southwest is facing.

Southwest reported it lost $60 million in revenue because of the government shutdown, a CNN story stated.

And the Federal Aviation Administration, which has an oversight system in place to ensure safe operations of airlines, in February 2018 began investigating reports of errors in calculating weight and balance data. The errors sometimes caused reported takeoff weights to be 1,000 pounds lower than the actual aircraft weights, the CNN report said.

“Since that time, the FAA has directed the development of a comprehensive solution to the methods and processes used by Southwest Airlines to determine this performance data,” the FAA statement said. “The FAA will not close its investigation until it is satisfied that Southwest’s corrective actions are consistent and sustained.”

Mike Slack, a North Texas attorney representing some of the passengers who were aboard the tragic Flight 1380 where one woman lost her life in April, said this could be solved by paying the mechanics more.

In the alternative, management at Southwest could continue to let the situation fester and bleed away all the goodwill the company has built during its years of service, Slack said.

Slack described the recent past events as a continuation of a 7-year-old family feud between management and mechanics that should have been resolved. There needs to be a quick move from management to reconcile the disagreement, Slack said.

“I cannot imagine safety is not being compromised in all this,” Slack said. “The company good will is being dismantled in public. The love at Southwest is dead if this continues.”

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Mitch Mitchell is an award-winning reporter covering courts and crime for the Star-Telegram. Additionally, Mitch’s past coverage on municipal government, healthcare and social services beats allow him to bring experience and context to the stories he writes.