Airplane masking now pits Southwest Airlines flight attendants against non-compliant pilots

The union representing Southwest Airlines flight attendants said the company refused to apply mask warrants to pilots, in and off planes.

Transportation Workers Union Local 556, which represents 15,400 flight attendants, said on Friday many of the carrier’s pilots weren’t content to walk through the cockpit without masks, as Federal Aviation Administration rules allow. , but that they also dropped face covers during the ground training. The union said its members are still required to wear masks and are reprimanded if they fail to do so.

“As you are well aware, flight attendants have had to enforce this federal mask mandate, which has created problems in the cabin when customers refuse to comply,” Southwest management letter said from management. union of TWU Local 556. “We proudly handled the split mask warrant issue in a professional manner, only to run into a mask compliance situation with Southwest Airlines pilots.”

Airlines companies

Southwest Airlines Ends Employee Vaccination Mandate Pending Court

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is not enforcing the Jan. 4 deadline for all employees to be vaccinated to comply with a White House warrant for federal contractors as the carrier awaits challenges in federal courts. Major airlines, including American Airlines, based in Southwest and Fort Worth, had set a Jan. 4 deadline for all employees to be vaccinated or granted a religious or medical exemption, but the status of the l The Biden administration’s demand is uncertain amid lawsuits.

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association declined to comment.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines has said it has required employees to wear face masks since May 2020. The company also said it has “complete confidence in all of our leaders.”

“Since that time, Southwest pilot and flight attendant management teams have sent out several co-written reminders to crews encouraging compliance with Southwest and TSA face shield requirements during this difficult time,” said the company in a press release.

The FAA has received 5,981 reports of unruly passengers since the start of 2020, and 4,290 of those incidents were related to face masks. The FAA fined dozens of passengers, and airlines have banned hundreds more for refusing to wear face masks, including several assault allegations against airline employees.

In June, the FAA fined a woman $ 21,000 for refusing to wear a face mask and punching a Southwest Airlines employee in the jaw while trying to board a flight in February.

The flight attendants union leadership voted a vote of no-confidence against the company’s vice president of flight operations Bob Waltz, who oversees the carrier’s 8,500 pilots, according to a letter sent to the Dallas-based CEO of Southwest on Friday. , Gary Kelly, and incoming CEO Bob Jordan. .

Waltz, they say, is responsible for the lax enforcement of pilots.

“The discipline for offenses committed by flight attendants is more severe and much less lenient for what is sometimes the exact same violation,” the union said. “What can be a proverbial slap on the wrist for a pilot is a dismissal for a flight attendant. “

All passengers and crew of a commercial aircraft must also wear a face mask when at the airport. This rule passed by the Biden administration in January 2020 expires on March 18, but it could be extended amid the surge in COVID-19 cases of the burgeoning omicron variant.

Southwest Airlines also has a policy requiring employees to wear face masks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and airline rules give pilots the latitude to remove face masks if they feel the face covers are interfering with their ability to fly a plane safely. However, pilot groups such as the International Federation of Air Line Pilot Associations have said pilots should wear face masks in other situations, including during simulator training, as the training “does not present any risk. for flight safety “.

Flight attendants, on the other hand, are not only required to wear face masks, but must also enforce the rules for face masks for passengers.

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly told Congress last month that face masks “don’t add much” to protecting against COVID-19 on airplanes due to the effectiveness of filtration systems air in the cabin. Kelly then made it clear that he fully supported the mask’s federal mandate.

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