Some Southwest Airlines ground crew members suffered frostbite when they were forced to complete shifts of up to 18 hours in frigid conditions during the recent storms, their union has claimed.
“Many of our people have been forced to work 16-hour or 18-hour days during this holiday season,” said Randy Barnes, president of Local 555 of the Transport Workers Union of America.
“Our members work hard, they’re dedicated to their jobs, but many are getting sick, and some have experienced frostbite over the past week,” Barnes added in a statement released Wednesday.
“In severe weather it’s unreasonable for workers to stay outside for extended periods. People need to be able to cycle in and out of the cold,” he said. “The airline needs to do more to protect its ground crews.”
Barnes added that “although it can be complicated, especially during the holiday season, we need to consider better spacing of flights during extreme weather events in the bitter cold of winter — as well as the extreme heat of summer.
“When the forecast for Denver, Kansas City, Atlanta, Nashville, Baltimore, Chicago, Portland and a long list of other key markets for the airline looks challenging, as it did over the past week, we should consider slowing the entire schedule,” he said.
The TWU Local 555 represents more than 17,000 ramp, operations, provisioning and freight agents at Southwest.
A deadly winter storm that hit large parts of the US during the busy holiday weekend grounded or delayed thousands of flights.
Southwest was the hardest hit, scrapping some 14,500 flights since last Friday.
On Friday, the airline planned for things to get back to normal, but the carrier still logged 41 cancellations and 99 delays at airports across the country.
Overall, there were 96 cancellations and 676 delays within, into and out of the US as of the morning, according to data posted by flight-tracking outlet FlightAware.com.
“While Southwest continues to operate roughly one third of its schedule for Thursday, Dec. 29, we plan to return to normal operations with minimal disruptions on Friday, Dec. 30,” Southwest said a statement.
“We are encouraged by the progress we’ve made to realign crew, their schedules, and our fleet. With another holiday weekend full of important connections for our valued customers and employees, we are eager to return to a state of normalcy,” it added.
The company also apologized to its customers and staff.
“We know even our deepest apologies — to our customers, to our employees, and to all affected through this disruption — only go so far,” it said.
Earlier this week, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said his department will be looking into the company’s scheduling system after thousands of flights were canceled, stranding customers across the country.