The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Southwest Airlines Disaster

Jan 9, 2023

Hundreds of thousands of customers scheduled to fly on Southwest just before Christmas experienced utter chaos. After Southwest’s flights began to be delayed by a huge winter storm, those delays snowballed into massive flight cancellations. In the end, Southwest cancelled 15,000 flights, or 60% of its schedule.

Southwest’s problems were not simply caused by bad weather conditions, as Sam Pizzigati of, among others, points out. Other airlines weathered the storm in much less disastrous fashion. Southwest executives made deliberate choices that directly led to the holiday disaster.

Over the last decade, Southwest’s executives chose not to invest in technology and to reduce the airline’s workforce and instead give massive handouts to themselves and their shareholders. The airline cut its workforce by 1,400 in 2021, according to Accountable.US. Southwest ground workers were forced to work 16-to-18 hours during the recent storm, with some experiencing frostbite, according to their union president Randy Barns.

The company has neglected to invest in technology. It provides weather and baggage reports to its pilots and gate employees on paper because it has no computerized system to do so. Really? In 2023?

When Southwest cancelled all those flights in December, its pilots and flight crews had to call into a switchboard which was way understaffed. Some complained of being put on hold for hours and still not being able to get through!

Southwest’s failure to invest in technology and its workforce is no accident. The company chose instead to give huge handouts to its stockholders and top executives. It spent eight billion dollars on stock buybacks and 1.6 billion dollars on dividends since 2015. It paid its CEO Gary Kelly 9.2 million dollars in 2020 and 5.8 million in 2021. This, all while the company said it was 3.1 billion in debt and received a 7 billion dollar Covid-related bailout from the federal government!

Southwest Airlines is hardly alone in choosing to pursue short-term rewards for its stockholders and top executives at the expense of customers and employees. CEOs receiving stock options as a large part of their compensation gives them an incentive to drive up the value of their stock by paying out dividends and buying back stock.

In the case of Southwest Airlines, it plays a large role in the country’s transportation system. The disaster faced by so many travelers during the recent holidays is a perfect example of the consequences having “public transportation” in this country left in private hands organized around the goal of profit. This system needs to go.