Southwest Pilots Union Blasts Boeing Over 737 Max 8 Comeback

Union president Jon Weaks suggests changing to non-Boeing planes

A Boeing Max 8 flying in the air.
Boeing's 737 Max 8 aircraft has been grounded since March after two crashes. Getty Images

The union for one of Boeing’s biggest customers, Southwest Airlines, publicly rebuked the airline manufacturer only three days after announcing a timeline for the return of its grounded 737 Max 8 plane.

In a letter to members, Southwest Airlines Pilots Association president Jon Weaks wrote, “The combination of arrogance, ignorance and greed should and will haunt Boeing for eternity. I strongly concur with Southwest exploring obtaining a different and perhaps non-Boeing aircraft for the best interest of all our futures.”

The suggestion that Southwest could purchase aircraft from another manufacturer is notable, considering that Southwest exclusively flies Boeing jets.

At least 5% of the airline’s fleet is made up of 737 Max 8s, which are currently experiencing the longest grounding in the history of the Federal Aviation Administration after the crashes of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March and Lion Air Flight 610 last October. In total, 346 passengers and crew members were killed.

“Boeing will never, and should not ever, be given the benefit of the doubt,” wrote Weaks, who has been with Southwest since 1990. Southwest’s pilots union is currently suing Boeing over lost compensation of more than $100 million due to canceled 737 Max 8 flights, according to Reuters.

On Monday, Boeing announced that it believed the 737 Max 8 would be re-certified by mid-December and back in the air by early 2020. “With the rigorous scrutiny being applied, we are confident the Max will be one of the safest airplanes ever to fly,” Boeing said in a statement.

When asked to comment on Weak’s letter, Boeing sent this statement to Adweek: “We look forward to working with pilots, flight attendants and our airline customers to re-earn their trust. The Max will only be certified once regulators are completely satisfied that we have made all updates required and they determine the plane is safe to return to service.

“[The union is] just serving notice that someone’s going to have to pay for this, to whatever degree they can influence the conversation,” said airline expert Seth Kaplan. “Even if Southwest never ends up ordering anything other than a Boeing, this is going to cost Boeing a lot. Now, there’s a real threat of Southwest ordering something else.”

When asked for comment, a spokesperson for Southwest said, “We remain confident in the Max aircraft and we are eager for its safe return to service.”

The airline currently has the 737 Max 8 out of its flight schedule through March 6.

@RyanBarwick Ryan is a brand reporter covering travel, mobility and sports marketing.