Southwest Airlines pilots report sharp rise in fatigue

Associated Press/Wilfredo Lee

The union representing the pilots of Southwest Airlines sent a letter to the airline carrier on Tuesday that details a sharp rise in fatigue among pilots. 

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) wrote to top airline executives that it has seen a sharp rise in pilot fatigue since the airline began ramping up its flight schedule last summer amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Since returning to its regular schedule in 2021, cases of fatigue among Southwest pilots saw a 200 percent increase, with fatigue rates up to 350 percent in the months of August and September and over 600 percent in October, the union said. 

“Fatigue, both acute and cumulative, has become Southwest Airlines’ number-one safety threat,” SWAPA wrote in its letter on Tuesday, obtained by The Hill.

“Our primary job as Pilots is identifying and capturing errors in order to break the error chain, but our ability to do so is compromised when we are fatigued. SWAPA Pilots are tasked with, and pride themselves on, making safety their highest priority,” it added. “Over the last 12 months, our Pilots have filed an ever-increasing number of ASAP reports showing errors that can be directly correlated to fatigue.”

The union also said that there was a 330 percent increase of pilots requesting to take time off from flights in March due to fatigue, comparing data from 2017 to 2019.  The union also said that the month of April is already seeing a record increase in fatigue numbers. 

“SWAPA Pilots are the most productive Pilots in the world and they go above and beyond to provide each of our guests a safe and efficient experience,” the union said. “Continued and deliberate deficiencies in the management of our network and Pilot scheduling have destroyed our efficiency, and now even safety is becoming untenable.” 

U.S. airline carriers have struggled with returning to normal schedules after most flights were halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as staffing constraints were one of the issues airlines faced. 

Along with SWAPA, pilots at the other U.S.-based airline carriers such as Delta Air Lines, and the American Airlines Group, have also made similar complaints about unstable schedules and unbearable overtime hours, The Wall Street Journal reported

Tags southwest airlines Southwest Airlines Southwest Airlines Pilots Association

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