Yes, Pilot Fatigue Is as Scary as It Sounds

April is reportedly already setting "fatigue records"

Yes, Pilot Fatigue Is as Scary as It Sounds

This week, in an open letter to Southwest CEO Robert Jordan, union officials alleged that pilots are suffering from extreme fatigue as a result of poor scheduling practices, per a report from ABC News.

According to the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, the number of pilots asking to be relinquished from various flight assignments due to fatigue spiked a staggering 330% in March, when compared with the same month in pre-pandemic years. It’s an issue that is said to have taken hold last summer, but has gotten exponentially worse with the uptick in travel demand in conjunction with ongoing staffing shortages.

“April is already setting fatigue records,” the union said. “Fatigue, both acute and cumulative, has become Southwest Airlines’ number-one safety threat.”

The good news is that, according to Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King, the airline has given the pilots the discretion to decide if they are too tired to fly. The increase in March, which ABC accredits to weather-related flight disruptions, points to “a system that works.”

The not-so-good news is that there exists an overabundance of pilots that are too tired to fly. And sure, the resulting delays and cancellations are unfortunate. But even more unfortunate than that? The prospect of being chartered thousands of a miles by a pilot that is too tired to fly.

Of course, post-pandemic fatigue is not unique to Southwest, or even the airline industry in general. A survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association from October showed that 32% of U.S. adults have, or are currently, experiencing fatigue as a result of COVID-related stress. Apparently the best we can do in this particular scenario is hope that, that demographic isn’t also routinely in charge of flying a Boeing 737 passenger plane, too.

Southwest has yet to release an official statement in response to the letter, though it is worth noting that the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association is currently in negotiation with the airline for a new contract.


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