Earlier this month, Southwest Airlines earned only three out of seven stars in safety rankings by AirlinesRankings.com, the lowest of any domestic airline. Even ultra low-cost carriers Spirit and Allegiant achieved higher safety rankings than Southwest with four stars each. Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines were the only U.S. carriers to make the world’s top 20 safest carriers list.
Southwest attributed its low safety ranking to the lack of an operational safety audit, a non-mandatory inspection done by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). However, Southwest hasn’t participated with that audit in years past, failing to explain the carrier’s decline in the safety rankings.
As Southwest’s Airline Maintenance Technicians, we are daily witnesses to the degrading standards, with which Southwest appears to place profits over safety. In fact, this is something we’ve been warning Southwest about for years.
We cast a vote of ‘No Confidence’ in Southwest VP of Maintenance Operations back in February 2018, writing:
“During VP Landon Nitschke’s tenure, Southwest has created a culture and workplace of hostility, retaliation, and unethical behavior and is degrading the safety culture throughout the Southwest maintenance system. Safety is paramount to us as AMTs. We cannot let his behavior continue.”
Thereafter, in a letter to Southwest CEO Gary Kelly a full year later in February 2019, we implored Southwest leadership to take action when none had been shown and a tragic incident had taken place:
“Gary, it is the frontline employees at Southwest that are the last line of defense and responsible for the safety of their co-workers and the flying public. We desperately need a Southwest leader to own and recognize that there is a problem, identify the root cause of the problem, and pursue effective solutions.”
In October last year, we had to call on Southwest to end their intimidation of their own employees using a federal safety hotline set up by the Federal Aviation Administration:
“The Company’s ongoing attempts to cripple union officers and highly experienced AMTs engaged in safety reporting has got to end. The continued strong-arming of AMTs is not healthy for this Company, its employees, or the safety of the flying public.”
As our warnings continue to fall on deaf ears and little seems to stir the company beyond skittishness from Wall Street, we hope the stark reality of this low ranking will awaken the Company’s focus on improvement of safety standards. But as time and experience has taught us, it takes more than one bad ranking to alter the profit-first mentality that has, unfortunately, characterized Southwest’s corporate governance in recent years.