Southwest Pilots Say Fatigue Is Most Pressing Problem


The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) says the airline has to address a growing fatigue problem in its membership, but the airline says it follows crew rest regulations to the letter. “Fatigue, both acute and cumulative, has become Southwest Airlines’ number-one safety threat,” SWAPA told airline executives in an open letter this week. The union executive said in the letter that pilots are filing steadily increasing numbers of Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) reports blaming fatigue for errors they make and the union says it’s the “direct result of operational mismanagement by the company.” It says changing pilot schedules is now the norm rather than the exception and issues with hotel bookings and tight scheduling are compounding the problems.

The airline denies it’s as big a mess as the pilots claim and the increase in fatigue complaints are a natural result of a challenging couple of months weatherwise. “The increase is expected, as it’s common to experience an elevated level of fatigue calls during irregular operations and in March, the industry faced weather and airspace delays that resulted in disruptions across the network,” Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King wrote in a statement to CNN. “The March increase in Pilot fatigue calls is a result of the system working as designed, allowing Crew to determine if they are too fatigued to fly.”

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. “…the increase in fatigue complaints are a natural result of…”

    Ahem. “The increase in fatigue complaints IS a natural result of…”
    Happy Easter! 😉

        • Absolutely correct.

          But the problem is, our agenda-driven government schools don’t teach readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic (or much else of any value) anymore. The result is that people are left to figure it out for themselves – and “sounds better” wins the day.

          And since communication using “texting” abbreviations, “bc”, “idk”, “ur”, etc, has become the norm, proper grammar has no real relevance to them anyway. They don’t care that our language is one of the key things that distinguishes us from animals. “No-mm sayin’?”

  2. “Ahem. “The increase in fatigue complaints IS a natural result of…”
    Happy Easter! ”
    Yars, my fourth-grade teacher wouldn’t let us go to fifth without knowing subject-predicate agreement. I never thought that Easter would be the cause of fatigue, but then again, she was a teacher, not a pilot.

  3. I am always suspect when a pilot union does this. They probably want more goodies and perhaps the collective bargaining agreement isn’t open for amendment. So, the union “negotiates” in the media.

    • As a former BALPA representative in BA I can say from considerable experience that when management says they will use their best endeavours to meet our request it really means that they won’t. Mac(ex B737/747/757)

    • In your context, you are always “SUSPICIOUS”. It’s the pilot union that’s “suspect”.

  4. And as on old airline pilot I’m also suspect when a company touts how they are following the regs to the letter! It’s managements job to squeeze every cent of profit per seat mile and they are good at it. It’s the unions job to protect the pilots from such squeezing and they are good at it. I used to always laugh at how management “asks” for concessions and the union “demands” things. Every bit of it is public relations.

    • I’m also one of those. Both sides usually have issues, but when the union tries to negotiate in the media, they don’t gain much sympathy from the public. And, most of the public will accept the company’s propaganda.

  5. This is not just a “union”/airline issue. I fly charter for a non union company and the fatigue issue is starting to be an issue due the way the pt135 charter business has exploded in the last 2 years. Sure companies may be following the letter of the law/regulations, but I would challenge any non-air carrier pilot to work continuously with minimum rest/maximum duty/flight time and see what that is like. With the crazy scheduling that is happening industry wide right now, this job is definitely not a 9-5, 40 hour a week position. Don’t misunderstand my comment. I did choose this profession, just never expected this level of activity. Of course with fuel pricing going through the roof that might slow things down some but that has yet to happen.

  6. Fatigue has long been the source of a lot of safety related risk. It’s long been present in the ATC environment. Despite numerous studies to include a NASA study, the government continues to allow the union to dictate working hours and shift rotations contrary to the “science”. I chose this profession for the benefits and love of aviation, but I can without a doubt tell you that the fatigue induced scheduling has aged me mentally and physically in ways only people that also similarly endure it can understand. Nothing is ever a problem until it is, or rather when something tragic happens.

  7. Instead of publically debating whether fatigue is happening amongst men and women who carry my family members in their professional care aloft, I would like to see some effort to see what is causing these people to feel this way. Are the FA’s fatigued also? What about the mechanics? Is there evidence that the pilot shortage is involved? Weather is weather. The PIC says “Go” or “No Go” or “Divert”. If Dispatch has a problem with that, let them solve their problem.

    Maybe there is a crew scheduling issue. If there is, does the airline really understand it? And overnighting should never become an issue. If it is, crews should document it and supply that documentation to the reps. When steel is subject to corrosion we eventually see rust. When fatigue is ignored and allowed to accumulate, safety degrades just like that corroding metal, and eventually it can kill people like me.

    Maybe the union has tried to get its arms around this problem and has not succeeded using normal channels. So they shove it out there in our faces. The very last response I want to hear as someone who rides in the back is, “…the airline says it follows crew rest regulations to the letter.” Herb Kellefer would never have stood for this kind of atmosphere.

  8. The airlines are not being honest about their cancellations. While “weather” is an easy excuse, the true cause is far more sinister: Many employees have been injured as a result of the mandatory vaccinations. Hundreds of pilots at my former carrier are unable to pass their Class 1 medicals due to heart irregularities that show up on their EKGs. One need only look to the over 700 dead soccer and rugby stars in Europe to see the common thread the companies and the MSM choose to ignore. Or, at the “HELP WANTED” signs in nearly every store and restaurant across our country.

    The manning situation is not solely a pilot issue. The same problems affect the Flight Attendant staffing shortages after their vaccinations. Those who chose to quit rather than get vaccinated have been replaced at many companies by candidates that were forced to get vaccinated in order to get hired.

    At each carrier, this injury data and the many deaths resulting from this vaccination effort have been hidden, or blamed on “other” causes. Flight crew members on both sides of the cockpit door have died in service, most only days or weeks after their shot or booster shot. Just as in the rest of our society, this story is being hidden. Only when America wakes up and demands answers, will this blatant lie end.