The Southwest Airlines flight attendant union has filed a formal complaint with the carrier’s management about pilots who refuse to wear face masks and has urged that the carrier begin disciplinary action against violators.
The Dallas-based airline’s pilots’ union has replied to the allegations by warning its members that ‘tribalism’ is spreading through the firm like ‘wildfire,’ and that some unspecified workgroups are registering complaints against pilots ‘at a pace never-seen-before.’
The spat is the latest evidence of the airline’s increasingly tense and sometimes violent interaction between flight attendants and pilots. Last October, authorities issued a citation to a Southwest pilot for allegedly assaulting a flight attendant over face masks.
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly issued a strong condemnation following the event, warning employees that improper behavior would no longer be allowed by the airline.
However, the TWU Local 556 union, which represents flight attendants, recently wrote to airline executives to express its displeasure with mask-wearing pilots.
According to the Dallas Morning News, the union’s officials voted a vote of no confidence in Southwest’s president of flight operations, Bob Waltz, who is in charge of the airline’s pilots, over the problem.
Writing about their role in enforcing the controversial federal face mask mandate, the union said: “We have proudly handled the divisive issue of mask mandates in a professional manner, only to encounter a mask compliance situation with Southwest Airlines pilots.”
In the flight deck, pilots are not permitted to wear a face mask because it may obstruct communication and delay the application of an oxygen mask in the case of depressurization or a smoke, odor, or fume issue.
Pilots, like everyone else, are required to wear a face mask outside of the flight deck. The incident apparently occurred at a hotel bar during a layover in October, when a flight attendant confronted a pilot about his face mask.
“Discipline for infractions by flight attendants is harsher and much less forgiving for what is sometimes the exact same violation,” the union has complained. “What may be a proverbial slap on the wrist for a pilot is termination for a flight attendant.”
In response to the vote of no confidence, the SWAPA pilots union advised pilots to obtain “independent witnesses” whenever “circumstances necessitate a conversation with internal or external consumers.”
“Once that forward entry door closes, we are all one team and must continue to work as such. Pilots must always remain level-headed and let things roll off our shoulders,” the memo seen by Kyle Arnold noted.