Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA), which represents nearly 10,000 Southwest Airlines pilots, has just filed a lawsuit against Boeing for $100 million. The lawsuit has been filed in the District Court of Dallas County, and involves pilots feeling that Boeing has deliberately misled pilots about the 737 MAX.
Why Southwest Pilots Are Suing Boeing Over The 737 MAX
The 737 MAX has been grounded globally since March, and Southwest Airlines was the largest operator of the plane type. The lawsuit says that Southwest Airlines pilots agreed to fly the plane based on Boeing representing to them that it was airworthy and was essentially the same as the previous 737 model.
They say that these false representations have cost 346 lives, have damaged the bond between pilots and passengers, and have reduced opportunities for air travel across the US and around the world (that last part seems to me like a bit of a stretch).
The monetary aspect of this lawsuit comes down to the 737 MAX grounding causing the elimination of more than 30,000 scheduled Southwest Airlines flights. This is causing a reduction of about 8% in passenger service by the end of 2019.
Since pilots are paid by the flight hour, pilots are arguing that they’re losing more than $100 million in pay as a result of these groundings.
As Captain Jonathan Weaks, President of SWAPA explains:
“As pilots, there is nothing more important to us than the safety of our passengers. We have to be able to trust Boeing to truthfully disclose the information we need to safely operate our aircraft. In the case of the 737 MAX, that absolutely did not happen.
It is critical that Boeing takes whatever time is necessary to safely return the MAX to service. Our pilots should not be expected to take a significant and ever-expanding financial loss as a result of Boeing’s negligence. We look forward to a solution that helps Boeing restore the confidence of both the flying public and the pilots who operate its aircraft.”
SWAPA has been negotiating with Boeing for compensation since early September, but that has gone nowhere, which is why they’ve decided to file this lawsuit.
Boeing has responded to this lawsuit by saying that they believe the lawsuit is meritless, and that they will vigorously defend against it.
What About A Settlement For The Airline?
What makes this lawsuit a bit confusing is that it’s expected that airlines operating the 737 MAX will have some sort of a business settlement with Boeing as a result of the losses incurred from the grounding of the 737 MAX.
It’s anyone’s guess what kind of an agreement will be reached. Southwest Airlines has said that the grounding of the 737 MAX is expected to cost them about $225 million in revenue for 2019. They’ve also said that they’re considering sharing some of the compensation with employees.
Now, presumably pilots wouldn’t be getting $100 million of any settlement as part of that, but I would assume they’d be getting something.
So I’m not fully sure how the lawsuit filed by the union would impact the general compensation to Southwest.
I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not sure how much of a legal basis the pilots have with their claim.
Coming at this from a logical perspective (rather than a legal perspective — often not the same thing), if we agree that Boeing was being negligent, and if we agree that pilots lost out on significant pay as a result of the grounding of the plane, then pilots requesting compensation for this doesn’t seem unreasonable.
That being said, do they have grounds for directly suing Boeing? After all, it’s the company that has a direct relationship with Boeing, and not the pilots.
I do expect Boeing will do everything they can to defend themselves here, though, or else they would likely be sued by the employees of virtually every airline operating the 737 MAX.
Any lawyers want to chime in with their take on this situation?