The Boeing 737 MAX is a very delicate issue. Airlines are owed for down time but getting passengers back on the planes may be tough. Southwest employee groups are effectively fighting Boeing for Southwest by proxy.
Pilots Sue Boeing For Lost Income
Last week I covered what I saw as a dichotomy whereby some employee groups (flight attendants from American’s union, APFA) were fighting to refuse flying the aircraft while Southwest pilots are suing Boeing because they can’t. Some saw the continuity being Boeing’s fault in not producing a safe aircraft, that’s true but the motives still feel very different to me.
Southwest Flight Attendants Suggest They May Do the Same
This week, flight attendants for Southwest joined their pilot brethren and indicated that they may also sue the aircraft manufacturer for lost wages as a result of the grounding. Not that they are taking notes from me, they totally aren’t, but to quote my post from last Sunday:
“Whether the pilots receive remuneration as a result of a judgement or a settlement, the pilots are likely to see something come their way. The question then will be, what about the other employee groups at Southwest? A judgement would plow the way for ramp and gate agents, baggage handlers, flight attendants and even Southwest corporately to sue and win. If they are successful, what about the other affected carriers and their respective employee groups?” – Me
This week they suggested that they had lost a substantial amount in the form of reduced schedules as a result of the grounding claiming that their “pocketbooks” had been grounded as well. Clever turn-of-phrase, flight attendants, if I say so myself.
Southwest Publicly Supports
Southwest declined to comment in regards to Southwest FAs and their legal pursuits. They have publicly supported Boeing and the 737 MAX despite its troubles unequivocally. For what it’s worth, United’s Muñoz and everyone’s favorite CEO, Doug Parker of American Airlines both have come out with some support though in very different ways.
The reality is that the airlines really have to support the aircraft, they are far too committed not to do so. It would also be a bad look to come out against the US’s largest exporter and one that materially affects every single one of their aircraft (an all 737 fleet.) Besides that, showing they support Boeing and never turned their back on the brand will help them negotiate their settlement when the airplanes return to the sky.
Fighting Boeing By Proxy
Southwest, the carrier with the most 737 MAX aircraft in their fleet in the US, has a complicated situation. However, in publicly supporting Boeing they are able to maintain support and their superior negotiation position. It also allows Southwest a defensible position with the public when (/if) the aircraft ultimately returns to service. Customers are aware of what aircraft they are flying on more than ever before, and getting customers back on board may be tough.
When Southwest’s employee groups fight Boeing, Southwest corporate can wash their hands of the situation. They have publicly supported the aircraft and Boeing but can’t be responsible for how their employee groups react. This allows Southwest to wage a war with Boeing by proxy utilizing its employees to fight their battles while they support them in the places where that matters.
I’m sure that Southwest leadership could defend that they have and will always support the aircraft type, in fact, it makes their employee group’s positions even stronger. But they must be incredibly frustrated by the rolling, dragging delay, lack of progress and concern over how much support they will garner when it returns to service. By utilizing, or at least not discouraging, their employee groups to put pressure and deliver remuneration from Boeing they can accomplish their goals.
What do you think? Is Southwest operating a fight with Boeing by way of their employees? Is it really a case where Southwest simply lets their employees manage their own affairs and this is what they’ve chosen?