Southwest Flight Attendants Demand Boarding Pay, Safe Places to Rest, and More

Flight attendants picketing at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Sept. 27, 2022. (Photo by Jessica Swarner)

By Jessica Swarner

October 18, 2022

Flight attendants are sometimes forced to sleep on floors due to a lack of hotel rooms available. 

Around 200 Southwest flight attendants and supporters picketed outside Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport last month to demand better working conditions. 

Transport Workers Union Local 556, the union representing over 18,000 Southwest flight attendants, organized protests in Phoenix and 10 other US cities on Sept. 27. 

Michael Massoni, first vice president of the union, said they have been trying to negotiate a new contract with Southwest for four years. 

The flight attendants’ demands include: 

  • Pay while boarding and other times they are required to work outside of their scheduled hours
  • Control over personal schedules while not working
  • Access to hot food and a safe place to rest while traveling for work
  • Fixes for technology issues that impact their jobs
  • A new reserve system that ends the practice of 24-hour on-call shifts
  • Healthcare benefits that continue if injured on the job

Scott Fellows has been a flight attendant with Southwest for 28 years. He said while most days are good, changes need to be made to make the job safer and less grueling. 

“A lot of flight attendants are hungry, a lot of flight attendants are tired, and our duty days are just becoming longer and longer,” he told The Copper Courier. 

Fellows said one time he was supposed to return home from work on a Wednesday night but didn’t get home until Thursday afternoon, and he felt Southwest could have done more to try to get him home on time. 

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“We’re doing our best to take care of our customers and we feel like it’s our turn to be taken care of as well,” he said. 

Fellows also noted he sees the company’s reserve system as dangerous. 

“If you get up early in the morning and have a regular breakfast and you’re on call all day long, sometimes you can get a phone call at 9 p.m. and then have to work until 2 or 3 in the morning—so your body’s been awake for 20, 21, 22 hours,” he said. “It’s not safe for us to awake that long and have duty days that long.” 

Massoni with the union said the reserve system “almost becomes inhumane,” especially when flight attendants sometimes have to sleep on the floor because of a lack of available hotel rooms. 

He said that airlines need to be more realistic about their scheduling and staffing needs, especially with an increase in passenger disruptions that sometimes put attendants’ safety at risk. 

“It’s been wrong for way too long,” Massoni said. “It’s time for Southwest Airlines to make it right.” 

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  • Jessica Swarner

    Jessica Swarner is the community editor for The Copper Courier. She is an ASU alumna and previously worked at KTAR News 92.3 FM in Phoenix.

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