On Friday Southwest canceled 100 of its flights due to outstanding maintenance issues. That’s a five-fold increase over the average number of flights the company is usually prepared to remove from service due to maintenance issues, reports CNBC. Matter of fact, each day last week the number of its out-of-service aircraft among its fleet of Boeing 737s has been double the daily average.
It’s not clear why so many Southwest planes are requiring service, but the airline is worried delays to its flights could increase if the planes can’t be fixed fast enough. To that end, the company has ordered all of its mechanics to show up for work, including overtime work, or risk being fired. A company memo to Southwest’s mechanics even uses the phrase that those “alleging illness” will require a doctor’s note when coming back to work or risk termination.
The problem is that since 2012 Southwest has had a contentious relationship with its maintenance workers. That’s when it began its most recent (and ongoing) contract talks with its mechanics. And in that time the company has outsourced work for foreign workers and eliminated paid rest for mechanics. Matter of fact, as CBS News has reported, the mechanics Southwest does have say they feel pressured by airline management to look the other way when they see potential safety problems on airplanes so that those planes can return to the skies faster.
As for Southwest, the company confirmed it was having higher than normal maintenance issues with its fleet. In a statement provided to the press the company said:
Southwest’s maintenance organization issued a call to maximize the number of Mechanics available for work. On an average day, the airline plans for as many as 20 aircraft to be unexpectedly out of service for maintenance items. Each day this week, the percentage of out-of-service aircraft in our available fleet of approximately 750 aircraft, has more than doubled the daily average.