The union that represents pilots who fly for Southwest Airlines called Wednesday for what could be their first-ever strike.
The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) said in a statement it was motivated by failed contract negotiations as well as issues with a scheduling system that has affected pilots and has led to the airline’s widespread operational failures.
“We’ve seen meltdown after meltdown, and as we move forward, we think that we can partner and really try to correct some of these inefficiencies,” said pilots’ union president Casey Murray.
Murray cited the “Christmas meltdown” among the pilots’ chief concerns, saying it “just defined what all of our problems are.”
During December’s holiday travel week, Southwest canceled thousands of flights over several days amid a massive winter storm that swept across a vast swath of the nation. The cancellations created a giant snowball effect that rippled across Southwest’s network leaving planes, pilots and other crew members scattered, hundreds of thousands of passengers in limbo and scores of unclaimed luggage at baggage claims throughout the U.S.
Southwest’s thousands of cancelations occurred even as other major airlines only experienced zero to 2% flight cancelation rates during that same time period. Both the Senate Commerce Committee and the Department of Transportation are investigating Southwest’s holiday meltdown.
SWAPA said it is asking Southwest for “gratitude pay to compensate our pilots who suffered through the meltdown.”
The union represents more than 10,000 pilots. It is calling for a vote on a strike beginning in May, which would allow passengers enough time to book flights with other airlines for spring and summer travel.
Southwest pilots have protested working conditions in the past, but the union has never before held a vote to authorize a strike.