Airline Feud Escalates: United Pilots Barred From Southwest Airlines Jump Seats After Controversial Incident

Several Southwest Airlines pilots have been refusing to allow United pilots to fly in their jump seats, following an incident where a ‘relatively new’ United pilot (recently hired from a regional carrier) reported a safety incident she observed while jumpseating.

Pilots often live in one city, but are based in another, and nonrev to their base to start their trips. Since they can take a cockpit jumpseat, it’s easier for them to do this than for a flight attendant, because they’re mostly competing with other pilots for the space and not with passengers on full flights. However access to the jumpseat is at the captain’s discretion.

Boeing 787 Cockpit

Aviation watchdog JonNYC reported on the issue, along with internal messages from the United Airlines pilot union about how this was handled.

A newer hire at United jumpseated on SWA recently from SFO-SAN and after the flight was over, decided she would notify the FAA on the inadequacies of the crew whose jumpseat they graciously offered.

Not going to name names but for gods sake, please mentor our newer hires on how to Jumpseat properly and keep your damn mouth shut. At the very least, if you see something incorrect or wrong, very politely query the crew, if you feel you must, and let them explain themselves, if they choose to.

If they choose not to and you are not satisfied, please contact our Jumpseat Committee and let them handle it. Running to the FAA and skipping Rob’s Committee is not the way to do this and I’d think that common sense will prevail but here we are.

Personally I don’t say jack while I’m riding and am basically a very polite doormat. I’ve got to say I’m not surprised by this as some of our newer folks just seem to not get it at times and I’m not really sure how we can prevent this from happening in the future.

Rightly or wrongly, some of the SWA guys and gals are starting to turn down our Pilots as this story winds it [sic] way around their seniority list. Please share your thoughs on this with the people you fly with and remind them that Jumpseating is a privilege and not a right. Many of our pilots depend on a ride from SWA and to be turned down because of someone else’s foolishness is unforgivable.

Certainly anyone riding the jumpseat should start with the approach of not speaking unless spoken to and being polite regardless. They’re a guest in the cockpit, and shouldn’t add extraneous conversation that could be a distraction, especially during critical phases of flight – except where there is very clearly a problem and speaking up adds value.

Multiple second-hand reports shared by JonNYC suggest that this happened on a flight into San Diego, slowing the aircraft, the first officer deployed speed brakes with no flaps while the captain was looking away. The United pilot in the jump seat suggested to the first officer adding flaps, captain looks up and tells the first officer to add power, and deploys flaps 5. The plane never reached an unsafe flying condition. The captain “thanked the [jump seater] for the intervention.”

Boeing 777 Cockpit

Nothing else was said about the incident, but the jump seater called the FAA’s safety hotline, opened an inquiry and spoke to the Southwest pilots. The inquiry was closed.

Calling the FAA may have been an overreaction, but pilots generally stick together and this one didn’t. They stick together even when safety issues are involved. Pilot unions generally opposed 25 hour cockpit voice recording, which was included in the current version of the FAA reauthorization bill in Congress. Whether or not this incident was serious to warrant it, whistleblowing on a pilot is not appreciated by other pilots.

The name and photo of the United pilot is being passed around, and she’ll suffer derision from her colleagues for doing what she thought was the right thing for safety. That’s an unfortunate element of the culture that even those who feel she should have addressed the issue through less formal channels should acknowledge.

This will, eventually, blow over – but pilot memories can be long. United pilots hired over a 29 day period in 1985 were scorned in the cockpit for 35 years.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. So, the jumpseater improved the safety of the aircraft and is being shunned for it…

    Great attitude to have by people who are there “for your safety.”

    What a bunch of babies.

  2. I tend to agree that the jumpseat pilot should have queried the pilots rather than call the FAA. Each airline has slightly different protocols for flying the same basic aircraft. One airline doesn’t have a “descent checklist” as does another airline. That doesn’t mean that the airline that doesn’t have a formal descent checklist is doing anything wrong. The pilots accomplish the same routine in a different manor. Going contrary to the aircraft manufacturer’s checklists requires FAA CMU POI approval. I had a new hire tell me that I’m “doing it all wrong”. He had never flown this aircraft so I called his attention to the POM & FOM and explained. He still complained. “You know, I was a captain at XXX regional carrier before coming here.” “Well, that’s great for you but you are not a captain nor an instructor now.” He went to the fleet captain to complain. When that answer didn’t satisfy him, he went to the chief pilot. A review board was convened and ALPA agreed…he was terminated after that. Explain that on your next airline interview!

  3. So basically people who try to improve safety should keep shut or die (literally in some cases!)

  4. Don’t bar females from jump seats . A female in a jump seat occasionally offers a good view .

  5. This wasn’t a flight safety risk, rather it should have been treated by this “Karen” as a mutual learning experience. Bringing it to the FO’s attention in front of the captain was more than enough. Reporting to the FAA was over the top.

  6. Hey Jumpseater, “see something say something” doesn’t apply here!

  7. Great post Win! . “If” that’s all that happened This was a a very minor mistake and not indicative of any safety problems at SWA. Newsflash, every pilot flying makes minor little mistakes of this caliber in the course of their career. That’s why there is two pilots, that’s why airlines pilots spend their entire career periodically receiving recurrent training. There are always going to be a few outliers in the industry, pilots like the guy in Wins post and apparently this one.

  8. Curious. Is there any payment involved with jumpseating? Is there a scorecard kept, like one for you one for me? Is this tracked in any way? I remember years ago a B6 FA riding jumpseat on USair.

  9. Captain, Professional Standards, FEDs.. that’s the order. Union Jump seat committees need to police the application of this privilege. Safety is safety first. Ego is not part of that. Fly precisely as SOP says then safety is maintained. Articles saying silence is “sacred” only lead to bent metal. Training and Articles about professional protocol are more appropriate.

  10. The jumpseater is officially an “Observer Member of Crew.” I always briefed my jumpseaters to speak up if something didn’t look right. She did that part just fine. However, if she felt there was a serious safety issue, the right person to speak to would be the Captain and the ALPA safety committees, in that order. This sounds like the FO was a newbie who misused the new toys a bit. The Captain corrected the error immediately, so not sure there was a pervasive issue here. The jumpseater in question should probably plan to move to her domicile, since commuting will be impossible now.

  11. Of course it was a woman causing trouble, probably with a whole 200 hours under her belt. This is why women should be at home, in the kitchen, where they belong.

  12. Even though I’m fairly sure it wasn’t written for the reason I want, I do love that the scumbag ‘85 scabs catch a stray on the most trashy, anti-union aviation blog out there!

    Well done. Did you mean to equivocate scabs with this person running to the Feds? That’s a bit of a reach, but the outcome (not being able to ride the jumpseat) is certainly similar.

  13. This woman is probably at least half as smart as she apparently thinks she is. I say this as a retired UA pilot who was a commuter and often depended on the nice crews of other airlines to help me get home.
    I appreciate them and I am much annoyed at this “tattle-tale” at my company. We have all flown with people who believe they are god’s gift to aviation.

  14. Female. Junior FO. SFO based. Pretty much the nightmare scenario of self righteous, entitled, arrogant leftist gen z Karen.

  15. These people making over 100 K wanting free jump seats is crazy, they are the first ones to says bring the issue to me before calling corporate to their own coworkers.

  16. Definitely speak up.. However, contacting the FAA was an A-Hole move. Contact their safety department, ProStans, chief pilot as a last resort, or actually speak with the Captain after the fact and leave it to their professionalism. I’ve had very few “perfect” flights in 26yrs. I would be hesitant to have a DEI hire trying to make a name for themselves, on my jumpseat.

  17. I suspect this young pilot will find commuting to be very tough in the future and may be in for ostracism by her own colleagues at United, for whom she has also made commuting tougher.

  18. wow @ Gary.. You realize that this accusation that you posted about hasn’t been verified or stated as an event which occured. You picked up a tweet and ran with some BS you found.

    I keep telling you- FIND ACCURATE DATA.. You half rate hack of a blogger..

  19. Also, @Gary… You posted a picture of a B777 registered in the middle east.. You can’t even find a 737 flight deck? pathetic.

  20. Nice catch, Steve! As for G Left, he’s been doing S*** like this for as long as I can remember, having read his shtick for many a year…

    Oh, and he’s pretty fast on the trigger, too, he’ll delete your post in a heartbeat, EVEN IF IT’S TRUE.

  21. Plz forgive me Gary, I think spell check was involved in spelling your name Left, rather than Leff.


  22. “United pilots hired over a 29 day period in 1985 were scorned in the cockpit for 35 years.”

    Because they were picket line crossing SCABS. You’re damn right they should have been denied.

  23. I think the point of contention isn’t that the jumpseat pilot intervened, but the way in which this was handled. There is an established and acceptable way to handle the situation, and running immediately to the FAA wasn’t the proper response. If I was a Southwest pilot, it’s not that I would mind being asked a question, or given a suggestion, but I wouldn’t want someone in the cockpit that would immediately run to the FAA with the most minor of issues. That would be too much avoidable stress.

  24. Yes, speaking up is the proper thing to do. How you go about it is the issue. She should’ve started with the crew. Then the union since she’s on another companies aircraft and they may do things differently. Lastly comparing scabs that crossed a picket line during a strike is a while lot different than sharing a Jumpseat with an off line pilot

  25. I work in a flying organization within the FAA. I participate in and helped implement our own Safety Management System (SMS), now required by all 121 operators, BTW. One of the main pillars of SMS is “Safety Assurance”. A key element in this pillar is an ANNONYOUS safety reporting system. AND one that has no retribution. This means anyone (and any employee in the group covered by SMS) should feel totally fine reporting incidents. This way data can be gathered and analyzed to fix issues. By “outing” this person and giving retribution to them and their airline is a HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE safety culture. Safety should be number 1, and not your feelings. The incident was reported, analyzed and nothing happened so that’s how it should work. I don’t see the harm here.

    All that said, yes, I agree with other writers that the issue should have been handled first in the cockpit, then slowly up the chain of command if needed. And if you are new, they could call their Chief Pilot and say “should I report this?” first. But again, this retribution for doing something in the name of safety is a bad idea. My opinion of SWA has dropped a notch.

    As another analogy, this reminds me of the thin blue line with policing. Never rat on other police officers, even if you see them do something questionable. Next thing you know they are covering up bad things and worse things will happen.

  26. @steve – the story is accurate. several sources confirm.

    Pilots are funny. Someone complains on a pilot message boards, and pilots swarm. They insult. But they don’t make actual arguments.

  27. The new pilot was correct. Unions are never to protect themselves from safety issues. Maybe cut out all jump seats for Southwest pilots on United

  28. I wonder what is the age of the United pilot. The actions seem similar to a lot of actions by Millennials and Gen Zs.

  29. the southwest cockpit culture is very different from any other 121

    a kid from a legacy watching a southwest crew for the first time is likely a bit surprised at how the luv crew rolls

    that said, she’s toast, and would be best served applying to the petrostate carriers

  30. Women can’t control their mouths whether in the cockpit or in any office. This woman dragged all her colleagues down for showing off what she can do, pretty awesome. It seems not only WN pilots against UA pilots, AA as well.

  31. To clarify: The jumpseat technically belongs to the FAA. The FAA “allows” others who are CAS (cockpit access system) authorized in a certain “pecking order” to request the seat(s). If the jumpseat is not being used by the FAA (and they can bump anyone!!) then the airline can use their own pecking order. Airline employees who are CAS authorized can either call a special number to their company or, in some cases a secure web site, to “request” the jumpseat. The requestor must use the proper authorization code for the particular reason for cockpit entry. The airline employe- es will always bump another airline’s employee. OAL’s can only request the jumpseat at the gate. The gate agent will verify the authenticity of the requestor through a secure CAS link. All of the identification must be verified. The requestor, company or OAL must still get the captain’s permission. Whomever is granted the jumpseat is now technically a crew member. If you see something…say something. However, if the gate agent has a seat in the cabin and the JSA moves from the cockpit to the cabin, that person is STILL listed as a crew member and therefore must abide by cockpit regulations. Sorry…no wine!

  32. hi,
    whatever the reality of things is; there are 2 points of view. the passenger point of view and the professional. the former would says that the jumpsitter did good the later the opposite. this is the i am right , you are wrong game from the school. the observer did well to point out an issue to the crew but what was the reason he/she went to the FAA ? it obvious to me that, the person needed some attention. that person probably feels disliked or not ‘listenned’ enough in the job. this is why he/she reported to the FAA. he/she was looking for some recognition maybe some spot light or maybe for someone tapping his/her shoulder saying :’you are good’. This attitude leads to a dangerous behaviour in flight. Because the need TO SHOW OFF in flight is dangerous. the : ‘i can do it’ issue is well known in TEM/CRM. knowing that it was a female pilot brings some light. unfortunately women pilots always felt the need to prove themselves. this is not only related to aviation obviously. in any domain; women have to show that they are egual or better than men on the same job. nobody asked them to show anything. they just feel the need to do that. This is ok unless you are working in a field where people safety is at play. Do no let your ego put the people at risk. no matter men or women!

  33. Ok let’s clarify something for all the non-aviators here so we don’t have silly comments about pilots not supporting safety culture. Imagine, non-aviator person, the FAA as the HR at the company you work. However this HR is the most micromanaging and intense “First Order” outfit you have ever dealt with. They don’t just care about big ticket items, it’s all the little small things too. Subject line incorrect or misspelled word in an email? Written up. Misunderstood an instruction? License to work suspended. And they are watching and waiting for these things to happen. So to clarify, bringing the FAA into a situation where an honest mistake was made (that ALL pilots have either made or will make if they haven’t yet ie …getting slow at the wrong flap setting when task saturated) has the potential to bring Darth Vader to your career’s door step for no good reason. That’s why pilots get pissed. Imagine some asshole reporting your misspelled word to a Nazi HR and highlighting you / threatening your career over something small like that. You’d be pissed also.

  34. Good thing she wasn’t wearing a Palestinian flag pin or you would be calling for her head

  35. I hope she understands that she will never jumpseat on another flight ever, not even in her own company.

  36. This is like finding out your buddy called the local police station to tell them you were accidentally speeding when you drove them home. Even though you had already self-reported it. She either doesn’t have the right mentality to be in the cockpit or she was simply a green pilot that had never been mentored properly. Saying something from the jumpseat in this situation is not only ok, it’s expected and appreciated. But going to the FAA undermines safety (and trust) in the same way a camera in the cockpit would. You don’t want the pilots worried about what they look like when they’re working, they should only be thinking about the job at hand. There were several more appropriate outlets for this jumpseater to take. It’s a shame she’ll probably be troubled and inconvenienced by this for the rest of her career. But it was also a terrible decision going straight to the FAA.

  37. @savage

    If she was wearing the pin you referenced, I would be worried about another 9/11. You remember how they celebrated on 9/11? I do.

    I was supposed to be at the WTC that morning and cancelled plans the night before because we had too much going on at the main office in Midtown. Of course, everything changed, Instead, I walked home at midnight in Manhattan (it was so quiet) after we shut down a phone hotline for family members that we were on from 6 pm to midnight. I have seen a lot in my life but nothing was like those desperate conversations with loved ones. We lost over 350 people at our company that day. Spent months thereafter arranging things for families.

    How soon we all forget…

    And you call yourself savage

  38. She was so far out of line. She was a young, low time pilot. It is SO unlikely that those pilots were doing anything wrong. She just hurt ALL female pilots. Hopefully she does the right thing and apologizes…and then resigns.

  39. This young very inexperienced pilot made such a “Career” mistake by going to the FAA for a non-event that was addressed by by her observation and immediately corrected by the SWA Captain. The Aircraft was NEVER in a serious state flight (Airspeed) danger. By going straight to the FAA 1. She mistakenly thought she was doing something awesome she could post on social media about. 2. Had no clue how the Jump Seat privilege works and how to report serious events that are not resolved with the Captain (Jumpseat Committee, professional standards) 3. Now she will either have to move from SAN to her domicile in SFO since she has earned the same “Silent” and “No Jumpseat for you” treatment that UAL/CAL Scabs had to endure during their careers. Her name and photo will be in every flight kit at SWA,, UAL and most other Airlines… she better be good at budgeting for tickets to and from work as a commuter!

  40. “The jumpseater improved the safety of the cockpit and is being shunned for it”
    What? Reporting it to the FAA does nothing but create problems for the pilots. If she wanted to safety, she would’ve told the flight crew and left at that.

  41. To the first poster above Daniel. She didn’t “improve” safety at all. There was NOT anything unsafe about what the FO did…ie..if not broke don’t fix it.. Guess this woman wasn’t used to seeing spoilers used in an actual flight to slow the airplane. She was way out of bounds opening her mouth on this one. Sit there and keep quiet unless spoken to. This is academic jumpseating 101

  42. @ Fred

    “Of course it was a woman causing trouble, probably with a whole 200 hours under her belt.”

    Guess again . Clue: almost 10000 hours according to people who actually know her

  43. Follow up to my previous comment, do you think she would have made 777 FO at legacy carrier with 200 hours.. She’s got Embraer, 737 and 777 type ratings and 10000 hrs as far as I can tell.

    Maybe… just maybe.. The situation in the cockpit was not what all of you think..

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