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Southwest planes and mechanic's safety claims

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  • Southwest planes and mechanic's safety claims

    I'm a soar grad (many moons ago) and have pretty loyally flown southwest for my domestic flights here in the US. Their service has always been good, super friendly, on time, free bags, and I love the ease of booking with points on them. I've been following this story first about SW declaring an "operational emergency" grounding some 40 planes and now the mechanics are speaking out about being pressured to put unsafe planes back in service in this story here. I'm wondering what Capt. Tom or others thoughts are on this and given that I have an upcoming flight at the end of March on SW, I am a bit concerned and wonder if I should be looking to the larger airlines like United, Delta, American until this all gets resolved?
    Mechanics say that Southwest is threatening them for reporting safety concerns; the airline covers its ears

  • #2

    Thanks for asking about this. I just did a blog about it. You can read it at but I've also pasted it below. What Do Airline Mechanic Complaints Really Mean?

    The playing field is tilted. Employees get nowhere unless they fight dirty.

    Recently, there have been news reports that some mechanics say their airline’s management is pressuring them to not enter notes in an airliner's log book to show the plane need maintenance. At a unionized airline, if mechanics are being pressured, they can go to their union, and the union can address the complaint with management. When complaints by an airline's mechanics show up in the news, I get emails from my fear of flying clients asking if the airline is safe.

    Before answering, I check the status of the mechanics’ union contract. Is the union having trouble getting the airline’s management to negotiate a new contract? Typically, when a union contract runs out, management stalls signing a new contract as long as possible in order to avoid increased labor costs.

    Unions used to be able to go on strike. In general, strikes haven't worked since the playing field was tilted during the Reagan administration. During Reagan's presidency, the air traffic controllers went on strike for higher pay and less time on duty. As a movie actor, Reagan was pro-union. He had been head of the actor’s union. During his presidential campaign, Reagan endorsed unions and got their support. The air traffic controllers thought they were on safe ground and went on strike; instead, Reagan fired them and began replacing them.

    Replacing the controllers took time. Was it safe? Of course not. At the risk of causing an air tragedy, Reagan showed organized labor that going on strike to gain increased wages and benefits was a thing of the past. Unable to strike without being replaced, unions have been dramatically weakened.

    Though most employees may not care what happens to unions, this weakening of unions had a dramatic and lasting effect on wages of all but the highest-paid employees. Earnings of both unionized and non-unionized stagnated. Since 1979, even as productivity has increased dramatically, the income of 90 percent of the workforce has risen only 15 percent. Meanwhile, the income of the top 1 percent—in most cases, owners, top managers, and stockholders—has risen 138 percent.

    Due to the decline of unions in the wake of Reagan's action, most employees must accept whatever wages and benefits they are offered. Few have any way to increase their pay other than to work more than one job. But, at the airlines, some unions have found a way to deal with management stonewalling. They try to make it more expensive for the management to stonewall them than to negotiate with them. Mechanics go over every plane with a fine tooth comb and write up every possible discrepancy. This leads to flight delays and cancellations. The mechanics speak off the record to the media and generate publicity aimed at making travelers think twice about booking a flight on the airline they work for.

    Pilots, onboard with what the mechanics do, add their own write-ups. They know when their contract is up for negotiation they will need the mechanics on their side.

    What does this mean to an anxious flier? Don't buy into the rhetoric that the airline isn't safe. Don’t get drawn into arguments about right and wrong. Neither side has the high ground. Management isn't going to give up the playing field Reagan gave them. Unions get nowhere on that tilted field unless they fight dirty.

    As a result, with every possible discrepancy being written up, there is no safer time to fly on an airline than when the game is going on. You'll get to your destination safely, but—most likely—not on time.


    • #3
      Thanks for the thorough response and article Tom. Where would I find the status of SW mechanics union contract? Clearly it's up for negotiation given on all the noise coming from them. I found this page below which does detail some of the back and forth between the mechanics and SW, but no info I could find on their actual contracts.


      • #4
        Just Google "southwest mechanics contract."