Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Pilot’s antigay rant leads SF assemblywoman to call for halt of state flights on Southwest

A pilot’s homophobic rant has prompted Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco) to call for a halt of state flights on Southwest Airlines.

Ma, who is a Southwest A list preferred member, wants the state to stop purchasing tickets with the discount airline until it “more satisfactorily” resolves the issue. She is also refusing to fly with the carrier herself.

A taped conversation surfaced this week where a Southwest pilot mid-flight between Austin to San Diego can be heard using anti-gay epithets and complaining about the company’s hiring overweight, elderly women to be flight attendants. He also complains about flying routes where the majority of flight attendants are gay men.

The pilot was initially suspended without pay, but has since returned to work after receiving diversity training.

Southwest has refused to name the pilot due to it being a personnel issue. Southwest Airlines’s Vice President Flight Operations Captain Chuck Magill released a video statement this week in which he said he was “deeply sadden[ed]” by the pilot’s “inexcusable language.”

After listening to the pilot’s derogatory conversation, Ma issued a statement today (Thursday, June 23) calling upon California to halt business with Southwest Airlines, which is the presenting sponsor of San Francisco’s annual Chinese New Year Parade.

“Discrimination does not belong in the workplace and I will pursue this issue until policies at the airline are changed,” stated Ma, who has long been an LGBT ally and is backing the only out candidate, Bevan Dufty, in San Francisco’s mayor’s race. “Today, I changed my next flight to a different airline and I am asking the Department of General Services and other state agencies to make arrangements with other airlines.”

Ma is also reviewing California laws to see if the company has violated any statutes that protect workers from a sexually hostile work environment.

“I will continue to pursue this issue until flight attendants can return to work without the fear of being degraded by such outrageous remarks by a pilot,” she stated.

Southwest flight attendants have also complained about the company’s handling of the matter. A statement released yesterday (Wednesday, June 22) from Thom McDaniel, president of TWU Local 556, which represents Southwest Flight Attendants, said the employees are “deeply disappointed and angered by the insensitive, and unprofessional comments demeaning flight attendants that were broadcast by a Southwest pilot over frequencies used by the FAA for air traffic control on March 25, 2011.”

McDaniel added that the company’s response to the matter adds “insult to injury” and has left employees “dismayed.”

“Calling this broadcast a ‘private conversation’ cannot dismiss this incident. There is no place in our workplace for any conversation that demeans, insults and discriminates against other employees,” he stated.

The union’s attorneys are investigating the possibility of filing a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“We are calling on Southwest Airlines to address this problem throughout our company, not as an isolated incident, but as a mandate that our workplace will be free from discrimination of all forms as a condition of continued employment,” stated McDaniel. “Bigotry in the workplace is bad business and unacceptable behavior on the ground and at 30,000 feet.”

— Matthew S. Bajko, June 23, 2011 @ 3:19 pm PST
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