Southwest Airlines’ heavy flight cancellations and delays, now in their fourth week due to maintenance woes, are taking a big financial toll on the airline.
“The damage to the company runs into the millions of dollars weekly,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said in a presentation at the J.P. Morgan aviation conference in New York Tuesday.
The costs for delays and cancellations includes lost revenue from travelers who request refunds when flights are canceled, vouchers, hotel costs and other expenses for affected passengers and any lost revenue if passengers book away from Southwest.
Southwest has had an unprecedented number of airplanes out of service, double the usual amount, and the airlines blames it on a small group of its 2,700 mechanics. It says they are writing up more airplanes for maintenance issues, many of them minor, to force planes out of service and pressure the airline into a new contract. The airline last week sued its mechanics union, the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association.
Union members rejected a tentative agreement with the airline last fall. The recent troubles began after resumed talks broke off.
Kelly said the contract talks, under the oversight of a federal mediator, have “dragged on” long enough. The two sides are due to meet again later this month.
The union has repeatedly said Southwest is making mechanics the scapegoat for the flight troubles. They fired back at Kelly again Tuesday after he brought up the financial toll at the airline conference.