CEO says Southwest is losing millions weekly in labour fight

DALLAS (AP) — The CEO of Southwest Airlines said that a spike in planes grounded by mechanics’ concerns is costing the carrier millions each week by causing more delayed and cancelled flights.

Gary Kelly did not give a precise figure on Tuesday, but said the financial damage prompted the airline’s lawsuit last week against the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA), which Southwest claims is aiding an illegal work slowdown.

“The company filed suit against AMFA last week to recover those damages and prevent more from occurring,” Kelly said at a JPMorgan investor conference.

Southwest said some workers are writing up minor mechanical problems such as missing seat-row numbers and grounding planes to gain leverage in negotiations over a new labour contract.

Mechanics rejected a proposed deal last year, and the sides remain apart on wages and outsourcing.

A Southwest Airlines jet moves on the runway as a person eats at a terminal restaurant at LaGuardia Airport in New York. – AP

The union denies that mechanics are conducting a work slowdown. It said they are simply doing their job and keeping the airline safe.

In a statement posted on Tuesday, the union said Kelly and Southwest are trying to “distract the public from Southwest’s own degrading safety standards”. The union accuses Southwest managers of improperly pressuring mechanics to approve planes for flying.

Southwest says the number of planes grounded for mechanical issues jumped from 14 a day to between 30 and 62 a day last month, forcing the Dallas-based airline to cancel some flights.

On Tuesday, Southwest cancelled over 110 flights by mid-afternoon, far more than any other United States carrier, according to FlightAware. An airline spokeswoman estimated that at least half the cancellations were due to maintenance write-ups.