Woke Airline Policies Threaten Safety, Workers Say
Behind the scenes of that rosy picture, heartaches are afflicting Southwest, called “the airline with Heart” because of its heart-shaped logo and a corporate culture steeped in “The Golden Rule,” treating others the same way they’d like to be treated.
But eight current Southwest employees, including three minorities, told The Epoch Times that “woke, leftist” DEI policies, as implemented, have tarnished the cherished Golden Rule principle, fractured a once-cohesive workforce, and, ultimately, may put safety at risk.
Faced with pandemic-related staffing shortages and pressure to add minorities, the company has changed the way it hires, trains, and disciplines workers—mostly to benefit less-qualified new hires representing the diversity rainbow, the employees say.
One Southwest flight attendant, a Hispanic female, said: “They are compromising safety for the sake of race, gender identity, and sexual preference … They’re risking people’s lives because of agendas.”
Southwest, one of America’s largest air carriers, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.
Similar issues have spread industry-wide, according to 10 airline employees who agreed to be interviewed. Four are pilots and six are flight attendants; most have 20 or more years of experience. All of them, including two American Airlines pilots, spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their jobs.
While no one thinks the policies are causing an imminent threat of a plane falling out of the sky tomorrow, all of the interviewees agreed that each time a standard is lowered, or a less-qualified employee is hired, the risk that something can go horribly wrong inches forward a notch or two. In an industry that depends on a near-miracle integration of people, machinery, and computers, even a few deviations can culminate in catastrophe.
Still, some employees worry about what could happen if current trends continue to stress out and distract safety professionals. Said one flight attendant: “It’s a recipe for disaster. I just hope I’m not at work when it happens.”
While promoting diversity sounds like a great idea, the inclusionary policies have actually become exclusionary at Southwest, employees say. Disparate treatment has divided their ranks into two distinct camps: those with “desirable” or “approved” personal, social, or political characteristics—and those without.
Minorities or people with leftist political views, varying gender identities, and alternative sexual orientations appear to be given wide latitude. This “protected class” is allowed to bend or break rules, and new hires in these classifications may be given extra chances to pass required skills tests, the employees said.
At the same time, veteran workers—especially those who are white, heterosexual, and conservative—find themselves in the crosshairs for almost anything, including making a personal statement of religious or political beliefs, the Southwest workers said. Even minorities can be shifted into this targeted group if they espouse personal beliefs running counter to causes that the company supports.
“There are two sets of standards: One for us and one for them,” said an experienced flight attendant.
One of her colleagues said: “The company is trying to eliminate anybody who does not agree with their agenda. The last few years, anybody who speaks up against them, they want gone.” That flight attendant said she had no problems at work until she posted her Christian religious beliefs on her personal Facebook page, along with her support of President Donald Trump. A coworker reported the posts to Southwest, and the flight attendant said she has faced repercussions ever since.
She and others say the targeting of conservatives is common—and they point to the recently publicized case of fired Southwest flight attendant Charlene Carter as a prime example.
‘Targeted Assassinations’ of Conservatives
Last month, a federal jury in Texas awarded Carter more than $5 million after finding that Southwest wrongfully terminated her and that her union didn’t live up to its duty to represent her. The company fired Carter after she expressed her pro-life views to a union leader via social media and opposed the union’s pro-abortion activism.
The company supported the union’s political activism, Carter’s suit says, by accommodating work-shift changes for union members so they could participate in the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., in January 2017. Marchers were protesting Trump’s inauguration; one of the primary sponsors of the event was Planned Parenthood. Southwest also showed “solidarity” with the protesters by bathing its airplane cabins in pink lights on some D.C.-bound flights, Carter’s lawsuit says.
Documents in the case revealed that some union officials and political activists were singling out dissenting Southwest employees for “targeted assassinations,” meaning that they would try to get the company to fire them, using the company’s social media policy as a bludgeon.
In an interview with The Epoch Times on Aug. 8, Carter, who lives near Denver, Colorado, said she can’t believe that some leaders of Transport Workers Union of America Local 556, who helped set her up to be fired, are still working for Southwest.
Carter also validated her coworkers’ concerns about the disparate treatment of employees who dare to oppose leftist agendas. “I think there are a ton of cases out there just like mine,” she said. Terminated employees from Southwest and other airlines have been continuously contacting Carter for help after learning about the July 14 verdict in her case.
Carter spent five years fighting in court; she thinks she was one of the first casualties of the erosion of Southwest’s unique corporate culture, which she witnessed during the latter part of her 20-plus years at the airline.
“We all loved our jobs; we all loved each other—our CoHearts, that’s what we called each other,” Carter said, pointing out that the airline’s stock ticker is LUV, a nod to its birthplace at Love Field, Texas.
Corporate Culture Shift
But corporate leadership and philosophy shifted. Carter said, her former coworkers tell her the culture is now one where people are fired on a whim, and they’re encouraged to file complaints against each other over perceived insults, such as failure to use the “preferred pronoun” of a person asserting an alternative gender identity.
Employees who face such accusations are presumed guilty, a current flight attendant said, and they risk suspension or termination. “That is how we are treated now,” she said.
“It’s gotten ridiculous,” Carter said. She was astounded to learn that lapel pins, designating preferred pronouns, are being offered to staff.
A fellow flight attendant says the company’s priorities are misplaced.
“We used to be focused on hiring ‘the best of the best,’” she said. “So why is it now that we feel at Southwest Airlines that we have to use the right pronouns and we have to acquiesce to someone’s gender-fluid mentality?”
The DEI Effect
The interviewed employees blame DEI policies for sowing the seeds of division. Ironically, before DEI was implemented, “people were never labeled,” a flight attendant said. “I find it very divisive,” she said, “because now everyone is labeled, divided by race, gender sexual orientation … whatever.”
“This is wrong—all the way wrong,” she said.
The company’s annual report, in its DEI section, says, “Southwest Airlines recognizes, respects, and values differences. … At Southwest, DEI is and always has been a part of our DNA.”
All four major airlines—and many other American companies—publicly disclose DEI-related information, such as data on minority recruitment and the racial makeup of their workforce.
“Every airline is trying to push forward with minority hiring because they want to ‘show that they care,’” aviation analyst Jay Ratliff said. “They’re being asked, ‘How many women are within your pilot ranks? … How many pilots of color?’”
If an airline’s diversity metrics seem low in comparison to their competitors’ numbers, the company’s reputation and bottom line can suffer, Ratliff said.
That’s not necessarily fair, he said, because few people have the ability, interest, and financial means to qualify as a commercial airline pilot. Amassing the FAA-required 1,500 hours of flight time with an instructor can cost $75,000 or more, pilots said.
Last year, United Airlines announced its goals: to train 5,000 new pilots by 2030 at its new flight school, with “at least half of those students to be women or people of color.” The first class of new recruits “exceeded that goal,” with 80 percent of the 30 students fitting that category, the airline said in a report.
Considering that white males make up about one-third of the American population, a Southwest pilot said that composing a class with 80 percent minorities and women looks like “DEI special-status hiring on steroids.”
Scoring Systems Push Diversity
DEI data play a significant role in corporate ESG scores—ratings of a company’s “environmental, social, and governance” performance. It’s a complex—and controversial—way to assess which companies are considered “good corporate citizens.”
Most of the interviewed airline employees believe that the pursuit of ESG scores is driving corporate personnel practices, including ignoring well-qualified male applicants while eagerly hiring less-experienced female and minority candidates.
Increasingly, ESG scores can help determine whether a company sinks or swims. A good ESG score can attract investors, government contracts, and favorable loan-interest rates—benefits that are especially important for the airline industry, in which lucrative U.S. Department of Defense contracts are at stake and profit margins are razor-thin because of astronomical costs for equipment and personnel.
ESG ratings have existed in some form for decades, yet they barely registered a blip on internet searches until a few months ago, amid the Biden administration’s continued push for businesses to address environmental concerns and to institute “green” policies, which weigh heavily in ESG scores and DEI metrics.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently announced his intent to push back against ESG, calling it “leveraging corporate power to impose an ideological agenda on society.”
Refinitiv, a company that produces ESG scores, says its process for calculating the ratings starts with collecting more than 630 ESG measures from each company’s public disclosures. Other ESG assessors have their own rating systems, which means results can vary depending on which assessment method is being used. ESG advocates are now working on standardizing how these scores are calculated.
Several airline employees said it would benefit their company, their industry, and society in general if ESG scores and DEI programs were abolished.
One Southwest pilot with decades of experience said such measures create unnecessary complications with no positive effect on the airline’s core mission.
“Why do we need DEI programs? Why do we need ESG? A lot of the public isn’t even aware these things exist,” he said. “The passengers just want people like me to get them, and their bags, to the same place at the same time, safely … DEI and ESG do nothing to support that—zero.”
“I need these DEI programs and ESG scores to go out the back of the airplane like the jet fuel that we burn.”
Non-Pilots Hiring Pilots
Southwest’s annual report says it has been “evolving hiring and development practices to support diversity goals.”
Those changes are troubling to the interviewed employees and to the pilots’ union. In a letter to members last month, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association pointed out that, for the first time in the company’s 51-year history, a non-pilot is in charge of hiring pilots. The “system chief pilot” used to have that responsibility. “We are just a single step away” from hiring pilots based upon mere reviews of their resumes, association president Casey Murray wrote to union members. Southwest has about 9,600 pilots, the letter said.
Putting a non-pilot in charge of hiring pilots most likely will affect the quality of the pilots who are being hired, Southwest interviewees said. People who lack specific knowledge of this specialized job would have a hard time telling the difference between a good hire and a bad one, pilots said. One of the interviewed pilots said that the chief pilot told him: “The diversity department has a very strong voice in who gets hired.”
Southwest wants to hire more than 2,000 pilots in the next year, the union’s letter said, questioning whether those new hires will be required to meet Southwest’s traditionally high standards. “Across the entire commercial aviation industry, employers are fighting for an ever-shrinking pool of qualified pilots,” yet Southwest may be at a disadvantage to compete for those pilots. Contract negotiations with Southwest’s pilots are lagging, compared to progress with other airlines’ pilot unions, Murray said.
“Pilots are the fuel that powers Southwest Airlines, and right now Southwest’s supply of fuel is running low. Time is growing critical, and options are becoming limited,” Murray wrote.
Seeking the Best (Non-White) Pilots?
Current pilots also say they have learned that hiring decisions are being driven by a job candidate scoring system; they’re unsure how long it has been in place, how it works, or whether it unfairly elevates minorities. The company controls all of that information.
Still, the employees feel confident in anecdotal evidence suggesting that the scoring system, coupled with other hiring practices, could be producing a pattern of discrimination against men, especially white men who come from military backgrounds—previously highly sought-after job candidates. “We could be wrong, but I don’t think we are,” said one pilot who has military experience.
That pilot said he thinks the vast majority of his colleagues have heard accounts of possible discrimination similar to the following:
When a well-qualified former military pilot applied for a job, Southwest never contacted him for an interview. But the applicant learned that a woman was hired as a pilot, despite having half as much experience in the airline industry.
Further, the man had experience as a captain while the woman had only been a first officer, who sits next to the captain in the cockpit. “It’s a completely different world” when a person shifts into the captain’s chair, said the pilot.
“We’re leaving a lot of people behind who are better-qualified, just because they’re the wrong color, or they’re identified the wrong way. That’s concerning. We’re not putting the best up-front,” he said. “We have people’s lives in our hands. It’s just like with doctors. If you go to a doctor, you want to go to the best doctor you can.”
An American Airlines pilot with decades of experience said he was less troubled than some of the Southwest interviewees who worried about the effects of reduced standards as a result of the increased emphasis on diversity hiring. However, that pilot said he would become very concerned if standards are lowered “to the point where people aren’t flying as confidently.”
A second American Airlines pilot said he has observed that “training is not nearly as comprehensive as it used to be,” he said. “But these people who are starting out are flying with people who are supremely qualified to be flying airplanes—so mistakes can be covered.”
He thinks the reduced standards could eventually cause problems if the hyperfocus on diversity continues: “If you’re looking for a diverse workforce and not a qualified workforce, you’ve got issues. … You haven’t seen any accidents because of ‘diversity,’ but the potential is there.”
All 11 people who were interviewed for this story, including Carter, the ex-flight attendant, said personal traits such as gender and race shouldn’t be part of the equation at all.
“From the cockpit door forward, guys and gals of all ethnicities are after the same thing—and that’s a safe flight,” said one of the American Airlines pilots. “They don’t care who sits next to them as long as they can do the job.”
More Than Snack Servers
Most air passengers think of flight attendants as hospitality ambassadors who make them comfortable with beverages, snacks, blankets, and pillows. But their main purpose is to assist in the rare event of an in-flight emergency.
Six Southwest flight attendants, along with Carter, say they feel less able to perform crucial duties because of the climate in which they’re now operating—and new hires appear to be less equipped to shoulder those responsibilities.
“They have just made it such a hostile work environment. Southwest has made it that way, and flight attendants are afraid to do their jobs,” a flight attendant said. “But you’re supposed to put a smile on your face and pretend that everything is grand.”
The flight attendants describe feeling as though a backstabber is always ready to pounce, to report any action or statement that doesn’t fit the corporate ideology. They’re being held to strict conduct and uniform standards while “accommodations” are extended to people in protected classes, such as a minority woman who was allowed to wear a nose ring—which got a white female in trouble—and a male flight attendant who described himself as “nonbinary”—neither totally male nor totally female—being allowed to wear a skirt that appeared to be shorter than regulations allowed.
The nonbinary employee seemed to be using his position at the airline as a platform for LGBTQ activism and self-promotion, rather than focusing on benefiting the company or its customers, fellow flight attendants said. They shared screenshots of the nonbinary employee’s social media posts. One is a selfie of the mustached man posing in his Southwest uniform, with the comment, “My dress looks better on me than most chicks.”
That employee no longer works for Southwest, flight attendants said. Yet they said they were aware that a couple of employees faced disciplinary action for referring to the nonbinary employee as “he” in a members-only Facebook group for flight attendants.
Antics Embarrass Fellow Flight Attendants
One flight attendant perceives that the company is making skewed, unfair hiring decisions, and creating a level of absurdity that’s hard to stomach. She knows of people who are related to Southwest employees and have college degrees—which go beyond the high-school education requirement for flight attendants—“and they don’t get hired, and yet we have this guy, with a mustache, in a skirt, distracting us all because the company wants to fight over his pronouns.”
Being a flight attendant used to be considered prestigious and classy; Southwest was viewed as “Mount Rushmore,” a pinnacle for flight attendants, who felt proud just to be hired.
“Now the pride is not about the brand of Southwest Airlines,” a flight attendant said. “It’s about how different I can be as an employee of Southwest Airlines—like, ‘Y’all need me more than I need you.’”
Public perception of the role has diminished, not just at Southwest, but across the industry. Airlines grant diversity-based exceptions to people who don’t want to look or act professional, the flight attendants said.
It used to be unusual to see flight attendants behave in ways that brought embarrassment to their coworkers. Now, quite a few of the new hires who were prized for their diversity “are rather risqué,” a flight attendant said. “They become very emboldened; they feel they can get away with this because they are in a protected class.”
Still, Southwest has had to fire employees who pushed the envelope too far, including one minority flight attendant who solicited sex in a social media video and another who videoed herself twerking. In both instances, the videos, provided to the Epoch Times, show the employees in Southwest uniforms.
Such conduct disgusts the flight attendants, and their concern is more than superficial. “If we relax the appearance standards and we’re letting people lower their professional standards, then they obviously are not equipped to handle any type of safety issue that can happen on that plane,” a flight attendant said.
“Where do you draw the line and say enough is enough?”
Commitment, Skills Insufficient
One of the flight attendants who has been targeted for religious and political views said her commitment to her job boils down to this: “I will give my life for my passengers and my crew, if that’s what I need to do. My last words will be, ‘Let’s roll,’” she said, referencing the famous words spoken by a passenger on one of the U.S. airplanes that were hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001.
She doesn’t see that same level of grit from the new hires. “They don’t have the same tough mentality,” she said. Nor do they have the same work ethic, which might be attributable to differences between the younger and older generations.
The older flight attendant described being busy from the beginning to the end of each flight while many of the new hires tend to just serve one round of drink orders, “then they go back to the back (of the airplane) and sit down for the rest of the flight.”
The new employees aren’t demonstrating mastery of the skills they were supposed to have been taught, or willingness to perform them. A passenger was having a medical emergency but the flight attendant in charge of that section “wouldn’t even come out of the galley to assist,” said one flight attendant. Instead, she and a second colleague had to take care of the ailing passenger.
Such an incident stokes her worst fear: “Somebody’s gonna die. With the lack of training that we’re seeing in the new hires that are coming out … there’s going to be somebody who’s not trained, facing an emergency.”
The irony is that, because of conduct problems and lack of devotion to the job, many of the “check-the-box” new hires either quit or are discharged, the employees said. That’s why it would make more sense for Southwest to be more selective in its hiring decisions—and to make those decisions based on the applicant’s qualifications and commitment to doing a good job, both of which now seem to be lacking.
Too Many Hires, Too Fast?
A flight attendant who is familiar with hiring practices said she is concerned about the speed with which large numbers of new employees were hired in recent months. She is hearing that up to 10,000 employees have been added to the roster, so the airline is now up to pre-pandemic staffing levels.
Her concern: It’s doubtful that the company had the capacity to properly vet and train such a large number of employees, including flight attendants, in such a short timeframe. In fact, she says it’s “mathematically impossible,” based on past observations of failure rates among new trainees.
For each class of about 50 flight attendants, about 15 trainees would “wash out,” or not make it through the rigorous testing process, which includes mastering emergency evacuation drills. Considering that, it’s most likely that “the standards would have to be relaxed” to allow large numbers of new hires to complete the process rapidly.
“There’s a mindset that’s changed…it seems like they’re accepting almost any applicant—here’s a body and here’s a checkmark” on the diversity list, she said.
She’s puzzled as to why Southwest pushed so hard to hire so many new flight attendants. “We don’t have all the airplanes that we were expecting to get,” she said. “Then why are we hiring all of these flight attendants?”
Today’s training is “a lot shorter and a lot simpler” than it used to be, she said.
Carter said it’s her understanding that flight attendants now must pass only a few tests. In years past, “there were about three tests a week for six weeks,” she said. “You were breathing through a fire hose all of this information.”
She also said that if a trainee flunked a test, that person was given one chance to retake it, “and if you failed, you were done.” Now, Carter has been told that people are being given multiple opportunities for do-overs.
As a result, “I’m hearing from flight attendants that these people don’t understand what our safety is about here.”
Employees say they feel as though core values and common sense are falling by the wayside when they are asked to give wide berth to people asserting that they are gender fluid, or identify with a gender that doesn’t match their biological sex.
“I don’t tell a pilot that I identify as a pilot, and I’m going to fly the aircraft—because there are no facts in that,” a flight attendant said.
While seeing a decline in the flight attendants who seem to be truly vested in their work, the flight attendants say the company is directing them to merely “inform” passengers about violations of safety rules, not to enforce the rules. This is in direct contrast to a few months ago, when flight attendants were required to function as the facemask police to enforce a federal pandemic restriction while it remained in effect.
Presumably in response to customer backlash over the much-despised mask mandates, Southwest has instructed flight attendants to cut passengers more slack. “We’re allowing customers to do as they please, and it’s causing safety issues,” a flight attendant said. People are refusing to remain seated during takeoffs and landings, for example. If something goes amiss, “You become a projectile; you can hurt other people,” the flight attendant added.
Airline Love Affair Ends
A longtime pilot described his passion for his job, and laments how the company killed it.
From the outset, “I was in a love affair with Southwest Airlines. They were smaller and scrappier. They were all bone and muscle. No fat. And I liked that,” he said. “We grew under the nose of American, Delta, and United, despite their tactics … We continued to grow and thrive around a very simple business model that revolved around the Golden Rule.”
That enabled the company to empower all employee groups so they could make decisions benefiting both internal and external customers. They didn’t get sucked into bureaucracies.
But the company crossed a rubicon last year when it took a stand on the COVID-19 vaccine and “woke” policies, he said. Employees were told: “You must get vaccinated and you must accept these diversity and inclusion principles even though it goes against the principles that you grew up with at this company.”
For the veteran pilot, that was a death knell, he said. “It was a complete and total divorce of the culture.”
“The company has destroyed the trust relationship. This is not the Southwest Airlines that I joined. … The love affair is over,” he said. “When you prioritize profits and special interests over people, this is what you get.”
Although the public perception is that many pilots lost their jobs because of vaccine mandates, pilots doubt that’s accurate. In the case of Southwest, many employees sought—and obtained—religious or medical exemptions.
The company still touts the Golden Rule, but that’s mostly lip service, the pilot said. “It’s the thing that allowed Southwest to rise to greatness. It’s less important now. What’s more important? I have to understand that a person’s gender can be on a sliding scale, or maybe they’re just a man who wants to dress as a woman.”
He resents the implication that “hopelessly bigoted pilots like me” need to take a new sexual harassment training module that encompasses LGBTQ considerations. He learned that if a person in that category believes they were looked at in a way that they felt was uncomfortable, “I could be written up, and I don’t even have to say anything,” the pilot said.
Southwest flight attendants were recently required to complete a DEI training or face being put on unpaid leave. That didn’t sit well. The flight attendants say they were already treating people as equally as possible—values embodied in the Golden Rule and basic human decency. “I say this as a minority: I don’t need to be told how to treat people with dignity and respect. I’ve been doing that all my life.”
Distractions Imperil Safety
These programs and the “woke” cultural shift are creating huge distractions, which by themselves pose a threat to safety in ways that most people never think about, the pilot said.
“People take it for granted that takeoffs equal landings. But I can tell you that there are close calls—regularly—where human intervention prevented things from getting really bad. … And the traveling public never knew about it,” the pilot said.
For everyone’s safety, all airline workers must be at the top of their game.
“We need the most qualified people in these safety-sensitive jobs. But it doesn’t stop at the cockpit door,” he said. If any part of the system breaks down because a person was distracted or wasn’t the most qualified person for the job, “the end result is the same if you had an unqualified pilot: the airplane is a smoking hole at the end of the runway and you have 170 people dead—and a lot of angry families.”
“If you crash one airplane, that one crash has the ability to put an airline out of business. When I go to work that weighs on me. All 170 of those lives are in my mind from the time we take off until we land,” he said. “In my mind, disaster is just around the corner.”
Ready for The Worst
Before each takeoff, pilots mentally rehearse how they would react to rare dreaded scenarios, which have actually happened: A maintenance guy doesn’t do his job and the engine falls off the airplane. Or the motor blows up. Or a fire erupts. There is an infinite number of things that can go wrong. But such incidents are exceedingly rare—and when they do happen, a miraculous interplay between humans and technology averts death and catastrophe.
“These are the things we think about,” the pilot said. “And instead, we’ve got people thinking about their special status and how they can get one of their coworkers in trouble?… When you’re cheating the laws of physics every day, DEI has no place.”
Under these circumstances, it’s infinitesimally trivial to even give a moment’s consideration to a person’s race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, or any other trait.
“I will treat that man, dressed as a woman, the same way I would treat a woman dressed as a woman, or a woman dressed as a man. I don’t care,” the pilot said. “Just do your job. Take care of those passengers. And then drag my sorry butt out of the airplane if it comes down to that, because I’m the last one to go.”
In one way, the “new” rules don’t really bother the pilot: He said he was already treating people well. That won’t change, he said. He just hates knowing that at any moment, he could be “written up because I looked at you wrong.”
As a white male, the pilot recognizes he’s “the new minority.”
He says he has to go to work every day and prove “I’m not the hopelessly bigoted, homophobic, misogynist, sexist fossil that they think I am.”
And that’s OK with him.
“I’m fine with that. I don’t care,” he said. “Because I live by the Golden Rule.”
Janice Hisle writes about a variety of topics, with emphasis on criminal justice news and trends. Before joining The Epoch Times, she worked for more than two decades as a reporter for newspapers in Ohio and authored several books. A graduate of Kent State University’s journalism program, she embraces “old-school” journalism with a modern twist.