The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association has released a letter denouncing the airline’s leadership as a «cult» that they say has spent the last 15 years destroying the company’s legacy, culminating in the 2022 travel crash. that stranded thousands of vacation travelers.

The union, which remains locked in heated contract negotiations with Southwest Airlines, released the letter December 31. It was signed by Captain Tom Nekouei, vice president of the union.

Nekouei says system-wide failures at Southwest Airlines have increased in frequency and magnitude over the past 15 years, citing not only the December failures that stranded Southwest passengers across the country, but also years-old incidents. previous. Those include a series of «collapses» at Chicago Midway International Airport in January 2014, which led to the cancellation of 130 flights there; a router crash issue in july 2016 that caused the cancellation of 2,300 flights; and an October 2021 air traffic control issue in Jacksonville that led to 29% of Southwest flights being delayed or cancelled.

Nekouei blamed Southwest Chairman and former CEO Gary Kelly. Kelly served as Southwest’s CEO from 2004 until last February, replacing Southwest co-founder Herb Kelleher as chairman in 2008.

«Gary Kelly still reigns on the board of directors of this company despite having overseen the decisions and set the conditions that made this most recent fiasco possible,» Nekouei wrote, adding that the airline’s struggles are «not a Southwest problem Airlines. This is not a Southwest Airlines employee issue. This is not an unprecedented weather issue. This is a Gary Kelly issue.»

Nekouei accused Kelly of hiring the company’s senior management with people of similar backgrounds, namely accounting graduates from the University of Texas.

«A recipe for operational ignorance and collective groupthink,» Nekouei wrote. «A monetization of the Southwestern culture once boasted and instead turning it into a headquarters-focused cult. A good old boy and girl network indeed,» she wrote.

«While this would bode well for our shareholders over the past decade, it has slowly eroded our Company from within to set the stage for our current and complete collapse,» Nekouei said.

Staffing issues, Southwest’s unique aircraft routing regime, and outdated technology have been cited as reasons Southwest was forced to cancel two-thirds of its flights during the holiday travel period that included the past few days. Hanukkah before Christmas Day, stranding nearly half a million passengers. Nekouei argued that every explanation the airline gave of its problems shared the similar theme of a lack of investment and a refusal to upgrade its operating resources.

The union, Nekouei wrote, «has been beating this drum to management for nearly a decade, begging them to spend the necessary capital to avoid the ultimate fallout one day.»

«As CEO, Gary Kelly made a conscious decision to make the least necessary investments in technology upgrades in favor of maximizing shareholder return because, well, ‘our technology has been working well for 20 years,'» he wrote. «While Gary’s financial acumen cannot be debated, his poor operational leadership and judgment have been repeatedly demonstrated with each crisis and have finally been exposed with the current situation we find ourselves in.»

In an emailed statement in response to the union’s letter, Southwest said it «has a more than 51-year history of allowing, and encouraging, its employees to express their views in a respectful manner.»

Read the full letter here.