Dear Southwest: Stop Trying to Play Hero in the 737 MAX 8 Situation!

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Dear Southwest,

We don’t know what caused the Ethiopian Airlines flight and may not for quite some time. That doesn’t matter. In a time where every single country on Earth had grounded the MAX 8 you continued to fly it. Perhaps you felt that the financial impact would be too great or maybe you genuinely felt the plane was safe (at least compared to planes where roofs and windows blow out and kill people), but don’t lie to your customers. 

Today Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly sent out an email to customers that was full of misinformation. Southwest Airlines (nor AA nor United) are not good guys here. They decided to keep flying these planes despite the knowledge that there is a potential issue with the autopilot and more importantly that this could pose a risk to customers. No, we don’t know anything for sure, but what ever happened to erring on the side of caution when it comes to people’s lives.

Keep in mind that every single other aviation authority grounded this plane before the United States. As for the grounding, this is what Gary Kelly has to say:

This afternoon, the FAA issued its order to ground the MAX, with our knowledge and support.

The decision to ground this plane had nothing to do with Southwest Airlines. If they supported grounding the plane they would have done it voluntarily without an order from the government. They had days to cancel those flights, but didn’t. But that’s not the worst part of this email. Kelly continues…

We’ve operated over 40,000 flights covering almost 90,000 hours. There is a ton of data collected, which we continuously monitor. In all of our analysis since our first flight in 2017, or that by our U.S. counterparts or the FAA; nothing has presented any flight safety concerns.

This is a lie and an unnecessary one. Several AA pilots reported to a government database issues with this plane nosediving when switched to autopilot. Last time I checked, American Airlines is a U.S. counterpart and the FAA was notified via this database. Again, we the public don’t have all of the data, but there was no reason to say that since it is not true. 

Source: CNN

I don’t understand the need for companies to try to pat themselves on the back when they make a decision that is bad for customers. No, we don’t know all the facts, but that is the point! There was another fatal crash, there have been other reports of this happening and now a lot more people are dead. All other authorities on the planet said this plane needed to be looked at but not Southwest.

Yes, they were legally allowed to fly the plane, but should they have? I don’t know nor did I really blame the company before, but this attempt to make Southwest look like the hero rubs me the wrong way. They are a company that made a financial decision based on the information they had. Fine, but they should say that or nothing at all.

Southwest will no doubt lose a lot of money by having these planes on the ground, but that is their business and is an issue they can take up with Boeing. They are in the business of taking customers from point A to point B safely and when that was in doubt they should have grounded those planes themselves. But they didn’t and that’s fine, but you’re not my hero Southwest.

One final point. I believe the 737 MAX aircraft will be incredibly safe in the long term. The last generation 737 was roughly twice as safe statistically as the generation before and I expect this workhorse will be a huge part of our flying lives going forward. They need to fix these issues. That’s it. I’ll fly the plane when that happens and I think you should to.

Share your thoughts in the comments. The full text of the email is below:

Since Sunday, we have been continually working with the FAA, Boeing, and others within the U.S. government, regarding the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft type that was involved in the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 accident on March 10. This afternoon, the FAA issued its order to ground the MAX, with our knowledge and support. We have removed the 34 MAX aircraft from service; they will remain out of service until the FAA rescinds this order. With more than 750 aircraft in our fleet, more than 95 percent of our aircraft are unaffected by this order.

Safety is our top priority. It always has been. It always must be. Our commitment to the Safety of our Employees and our Customers is unwavering and uncompromising. U.S. airlines operate within the most advanced, regulated aviation system in the world and nothing is more sacred to all of our Southwest Family Members than the trust our Customers place in our airline every day, on every flight. You have our commitment to minimize the disruptions to our Customers’ travel plans, while adhering to the FAA’s requirements and ensuring the Safety of our fleet.

Southwest® has a long history with the 737 and a stellar safety record. Our experience with the MAX, along with the other U.S. operators, has been phenomenal. We’ve operated over 40,000 flights covering almost 90,000 hours. There is a ton of data collected, which we continuously monitor. In all of our analysis since our first flight in 2017, or that by our U.S. counterparts or the FAA; nothing has presented any flight safety concerns. It is also important to add that all Pilots at Southwest are deeply experienced and highly trained, as are our Mechanics who are highly experienced and trained to safely maintain every airplane in our fleet.

I realize this disruption may inconvenience our Customers during this busy spring travel season, and we will do everything in our power to mitigate the impact to our operation. For that, I offer my sincere apologies. To support our Customers, we are offering flexible rebooking policies for any Customer booked on a cancelled flight.

Thank you for your patience and understanding. We will provide frequent updates to you as this story develops.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Agreed. Also, I believe the US airlines who fly this plane and especially Boeing are putting profits before safety. Sad.

  2. Will it come to light later that there were SW pilots who complained about the 737 MAX and specifically this issue? I’m sure every model of plane has its quirks, but when a plane crashes and pilot error is ruled out, all airlines and governments should take notice. The FAA, along with the airlines, likely knew a lot more than they are letting on.

  3. They left me high and dry in PHX. Had no available flight to get me home this weekend not til next week. Refused to try to reroute me to get home and would not put me on another carrier. Had to pay $1500 on JetBlue to go home tonight. They refunded my points and that’s it. Chase sapphire reserve claims the FAA grounding and subsequent cancellation is not a covered reason.
    Any recourse here?

    • “A Covered Hazard includes equipment failure, inclement weather, labor strikes, and hijacking or skyjacking.”

      Maybe argue it as equipment failure, which is ultimately the root cause of all the groundings. Inability to guarantee safety of journey on equipment constitutes equipment failure, right? 😀

  4. Southwest definitely lost some credibility in my eyes. The whole Luv culture not as bright and shiny. I tweeted ton@southwest 2 days before the FAA announcement and one of their social media folks responded no problem it’s safe to fly. Bottom line they took a beating recently with the issue with the mechanics no way were they going to voluntarily shut it down. Greed before safety. Happy I did not try for the recent companion pass promotion. Definite going to fly less if any this year with southwest. Alaska can get me there close if not the same costs

    • The Southwest culture as a whole has seemed to change a lot over the last decade or two. Sad to see but as companies continue to grow they often lose sight of what gave them that opportunity in the first place.

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