It’s been a tough time for the airline industry lately. Flights are getting canceled and delayed more often, passengers are getting unruly, and a surprising amount of people think it’s completely fine to take their shoes off on a flight.
But Southwest Airlines (LUV) was looking at least better than most airlines, as the company has been making moves to make flying at least somewhat more bearable.
It recently made a change where its Rapid Rewards Members can now achieve A-List or A-List Preferred tier status much quicker, which will make it easier to accumulate points that can be used for such perks as priority boarding and the ability to make a same day change with no difference in base fare.
The company also introduced a feature that lets customers change their boarding group for an added fee starting at $30, either online or via the Southwest app, within 24 hours of departure.
These moves, arguably, could increase goodwill for Southwest during a time when there’s not a great deal of goodwill towards airlines. But while it might be able to make its customers relatively happy compared to the competition, the company seems to be having a problem making its employees happy. And if the word gets out, that relative public goodwill might go away.
So you don’t like it when your flight is delayed by several hours or canceled? Well, if it makes you feel any better, airline employees don’t like that much easier, as no one likes to be the bearer of bad news.
According to ZD Net Business, Southwest pilots allege “that the company’s technology is simply not up to the task of efficiently scheduling staffing. To such a degree that pilots often have their flights changed and find themselves out of position, sometimes not being able to immediately return home.”
Southwest, like the entire airline industry, has been having a hard time recruiting and training enough pilots, as a great deal of them took a buyout or retired early. Due to factors such as covid-induced mental exhaustion, the airline industry has been dealing with an ongoing labor shortage, just like nearly every other industry.
The lack of available employees, as well as employees getting sick from covid and climate change-induced weather patterns, are the main culprits responsible for flight cancellations. And no one really likes working for an industry that everyone is mad at. (And they really don’t like it when irate customers unfairly lose their tempers with them.)
Or as one source in the article noted, “Our pilots are tired of saying, ‘I’m sorry.'”
It’s especially vexing for employees, because for a long time Southwest Airlines had a reputation for having some of the best customer service in the industry and some of the happiest employees. It was ranked “highest for satisfaction in the annual J.D. Power survey looking at customers’ satisfaction with North American airlines.”
But now many employees worry that the company has lost sight of what made it stand out after new CEO Robert Jordan took over earlier this year, and The Dallas Morning News recently described the company as “trying to balance surging travel demand with a workforce that is both smaller and battered after two years of pandemic flying,” while noting it has “has already cut more than 20,000 flights this summer as it tries to reduce its schedules to adjust for the number of employees it has.”
Southwest employees recently picketed at a party in Nashville where Southwest executives were celebrating record profits, while holding signs stating “Southwest’s operation. From First to Worst” and “Exploiting culture is now Southwest culture.”
And in a recent podcast with the pilot-centered The SWAPA Number, President of Southwest Airlines Pilots Association Casey Murray called the airline “a company that supported its employees to a company supported by its employees,” and that it had “no real vision, no real motivation.”
Ultimately, experts agree that the only way for airlines to recruit more pilots and employees such as gate agents, ramp workers, and mechanics, and thus making the air travel experience easier, is to pay to recruit more talent.
Instead, Murray contends that about 75% of Southwest’s employees currently have contracts under negotiation. “They’re responsible for producing the revenue,” he said. But according to the union, executives pay themselves hefty bonuses and hold parties to celebrate record profits.
In May, employees rejected a proposed contract, which gave immediate 6.5% raises as well as 3% raises for the following three years.