Las Vegas Airline Employees, Including at Southwest, Seek Better Working Conditions

Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas was part of a nationwide picket this week by employees of Southwest and United airlines. Called a “Day of Action,” Southwest and United workers held protests at 14 airports across the country.

Las Vegas airline protest Southwest United
Las Vegas airline protest Southwest United
Southwest Airlines flight attendants picket outside Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas on Tuesday, September 27, 2022. The airline employees are demanding better working conditions. (Image: KSNV)

No airline is more critical to Southern Nevada and the region’s gaming and hospitality industries than Southwest. The airline served 14 million passengers in and out of Harry Reid International last year. Southwest set an airline traffic count record for Las Vegas in 2019 by facilitating travel for more than 17.3 million people.

Southwest announced earlier this month that because of increased demand for the casino capital of the world, the airline would be adding 12 daily flights to Las Vegas beginning in March. But before its operations through LAS enlarges, the company will need to answer to its many workers, who protested this week across the country for better working conditions.

The national picketing was organized by the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU). The union is demanding that airlines like Southwest improve working environments for their employees. That’s following more than two years of chaos because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The union is asking airlines to provide its members, which includes flight attendants, aircraft mechanics and engineers, and flight dispatchers, with more control over their schedules. The union also wants attendants to be better served with more reliable hotel lodging, food, safety, and insurance.

Flight Attendants Raise Serious Trepidations

TWU says it represents roughly 18,000 Southwest Airlines flight attendants, many of whom regularly travel through Southern Nevada and Harry Reid International. The flight crews who participated in the national picket this week say their life in the air has been quite turbulent since the coronavirus pandemic.

Never before in the history of Southwest Airlines have flight attendants’ working conditions deteriorated so rapidly, crippling our quality of life, devaluing our role, and creating a loss of spirit,” declared TWU Local 556 President Lyn Montgomery.

TWU says flight attendants have been forced to sleep in airport terminals because of last-minute scheduling changes. Those nights often included workers scrambling to find a hot meal.

TWU is demanding through a new collective bargaining agreement that Southwest additionally pay flight attendants for all time worked, including when passengers are boarding and deboarding. The union also wants to give attendants more flexibility to take personal leave as needed.

Montgomery says the TWU doesn’t picket often, but drastic times call for drastic measures.

“It is drastic for us to come out and picket. We don’t do it often and we don’t do it lightly,” said Montgomery, who has been a Southwest employee since 1995. “Southwest Airlines flight attendants really love our company, and today’s efforts don’t mean that we don’t love our company. But do better.”

Travel Rebound

Inflation might still be increasing, but with COVID seemingly stable and life returning to normal, millions of Americans continue to travel.

Harry Reid International served 39.7 million arriving and departing passengers last year, over 17 million more people than it did in the pandemic-stricken 2020. But 2021 still remained about 23% below the airport’s 2019 numbers.

Harry Reid International — then known as McCarran — facilitated a record 51.5 million people in 2019.

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