Southwest Airlines Pilots Walk Out On CEO Bob Jordan As Carrier Tries To Restore Culture After Holiday Meltdown

In December United Airlines pilots literally turned their back on CEO Scott Kirby when he came out to meet them during their union’s informational picketing. The union had agreed to a contract, but then pulled their agreement once they saw other airlines offering pilots more, and they were protesting the lack of a contract.

On Wednesday, Southwest Airlines held a major employee rally. They’re working to support the culture, as they always do, but it’s especially crucial now after the airline’s holiday meltdown and because around one-fifth of the carrier’s employees are new within the last year. They don’t have a career of context for the airline to support a warm, positive view of the company. Being stranded in cities without communication over the Christmas period looms large.

However Southwest pilots, themselves negotiating a contract, used the opportunity to walk out on CEO Bob Jordan.

Like United’s Kirby making the classy move of reaching out to his protesting pilots, Southwest’s CEO and Chief Operating Officer applauded and thanked those in the audience who cheered for supporting “the best pilots in the world.”

Southwest, for its part, has been generously compensating customers, taking steps to accelerate its investment in IT, and compensating employees as well. They’ve announced profit sharing plans:

United Airlines is taking aim at Southwest’s operational performance in a Superbowl ad. But their holiday issues were such a combination of factors, not likely to correlate outside of extreme winter, that customers shouldn’t expect a repeat of the same degree of event any time soon. While there will be operational challenges at Southwest (and other airlines!) in the meantime they have a window to improve their ability to recover operations before the same long tail risk re-emerges.

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. Let’s not forget that none of American, Southwest or United have new pilot contracts with their pilots while Delta pilots are voting on their new contract which will raise their pay significantly.
    Scott Kirby said he would have the industry’s first and best pilot contract for UA pilots but the pilots rejected what the union agreed to as soon as AA torpedoed the UA contract by just a couple percent. The UA pilot union is still in shambled. AA pilots rejected their own contract.

    Good labor relations matter now more than ever as the government has its eye on the industry and the labor shortage – which involves both pilots and mechanics as well as other labor groups – deepens.

    Scott Kirby never was emotionally smart enough to know that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

    All of the criticism of worthless Skymiles and full Sky Clubs won’t matter when Delta passengers are getting to their destinations while the rest of the big 4 are in labor-induced operational meltdowns this summer.

    As for WN’s testimony that they had no idea who was flying what flights, I am sure that there will be plenty in Congress that will be shocked beyond belief to hear that.

  2. Did the IT staff walk out? I’m constantly hearing about the pilots but never the IT/infrastructure teams – nearly always the most underappreciated portion of the business.

  3. The pilots act as if they are working for free or at the federal minimum wage.

    Spoiler alert…they most certainly aren’t.

    And when their overly generous contrqct eventually gets signed they will get significant back pay.

    And based on their behavior during the meltdown the WN pilots should be embarrassed to continue their anti-employer behavior.

  4. It’s beyond obvious that WN had no idea:

    1) Who was flying the planes.
    2) Who was actually running the airline.
    3) Walking out on CEO Bob Jordan is a major (and embarrassing) vote of no confidence by the pilots. He has zero credibility among employees and customers.

  5. Most of US commercial aviation is built on shareholder-focused managers and BODs exploiting employees and customers to maximize returns … and default-angry, implacable labor groups (UA employee groups have sought to undermine every UA CEO sick the Ferris / Allegis days 40 years ago).

    Southwest today is no exception. With Herb around it ran on a team-spirit, shared-struggle mythos that is gone now. Southwest in 2023 has to cope with the consequences not only of chronic, dumb underinvestment in system infrastructure, but of workers as antagonistic and adversarial as those of every other airline. Kelleher’s dream is over

  6. WN is a hot mess and is essentially a flying bus. Long term, it will merge into another airline.


  8. The ceo needs to go. This stuff along with him not showing up in Washington makes you wonder about his skills. A leader often has to absorb a lot of bullets from congress, ,employees, etc. A leader should lead from the front.

  9. The CEO is saying they are doing the best they can regarding their meltdown over Christmas.
    I’m still waiting for my $291 refund on another carrier ticket to get back home because of Southwest’s meltdown.

  10. Tim Dunn whines when anyone makes an off-topic comment on a Delta post, then comes to SWA posts to talk all about Delta?

    It would be a fascinating level of fanboyism. If it wasn’t actually boring.

  11. Look, Southwest Airlines made a huge mistake in ignoring company internal software tools. Every major airline has screwed up royally over the last 50 years. Southwest evaded that till last Christmas.
    Because there leaders were innovative and “gutsy”, they grew this airline as profitable, with money in the bank when they needed it. In the financial meltdown of 2008, every airline except Southwest took federal bailout money. Southwest was hedging the aviation fuel market by locking in fuel prices on 3 year contracts. Every other airline is buying on a credit card. For that 1 reason I fly them exclusively. Last time I checked Southwest never ever let one of there planes full of paying passengers sit on a tarmac with no food and water for more than 8 hours only to have a flight cancelled.

    And no, Southwest will always be an independent airline and would never merge with another airline. They’re too large. No other airline could do this financially. Southwest is still more profitable than any other airline. Shareholders want profits, not losses and government bailouts.

  12. Last time I checked Southwest never ever let one of there planes full of paying passengers sit on a tarmac with no food and water for more than 8 hours only to have a flight cancelled. instead they cancel your flight and you have to wait 2 days to 2 weeks to get home or figure out alternative methods at triple the cost

  13. Other airlines simply do not buy their fuel on credit cards.

    Other airlines have fuel cost reduction strategies that have delivered fuel cost savings as large as what Southwest gets. and it is factually incorrect to say that all other airlines except LUV accepted federal bailout money in 2008.

    no, owning shares of United would not have been a better investment unless you cherrypick out a couple months worth of time – but LUV has been profitable for more quarters of its existence than any other airline.

    But this isn’t article isn’t about any of this.

    It is about an airline that just experienced the largest and most costly airline operational meltdown in history and the simultaneous complete collapse of employee support for the company – as evidenced by their pilots but supported by everyone else in the audience according to the video.

    And, as hard as it might be for some to accept it, Delta is the only one of the big 4 that has come up with an agreement with its pilots who are voting for that proposed contract and are expected to easily and convincingly pass it.

    According to the latest DOT data, Delta has maintained its position as having the best on-time in 2022 and ranks 1st on a cumulative basis among DOT measurable statistics.

    When US Senators ask where Southwest’s CEO is and the company’s own pilot leadership testified that they repeatedly advised the company that they needed to take steps to prevent an operational disaster which ultimately happened, then let’s put away all of the pushback about who is doing what and acknowledge that Delta is leading the industry right now including in engaging its employees while Southwest, long fueled by its employee engagement, is imploding from the inside day by day.

    I sure want to see WN succeed but there have been so many red lights flashing for so long that no one should be surprised that the inevitable happened and that WN leadership has yet to fully own what happened and commit to fixing it.

  14. Welfare queens. That’s right – the middle aged white dudes who sat at home cashing government checks while the rest of us worked.

  15. As part of the “good ole boy network,” top level execs at the major carriers have, for decades, provided each other with reciprocal first-class positive space travel. Jordan and a couple of others most likely have them. I suspect when Parker pulled his stunt on WN he was utilizing the one they issued to him.

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