Southwest pilot: Rant earns temporary suspension

Southwest pilot, caught on tape, disses gays, older flight attendants. After suspension and diversity training, Southwest pilot reinstated.

Tony Avelar / The Christian Science Monitor / File
A Southwest flight from Denver International Airport loads luggage at the gate Jan. 25, 2008 in Denver. Earlier in 2011, a Southwest pilot was temporarily suspended without pay for making disparaging comments about flight attendants.

DALLAS – Southwest Airlines Co. suspended a pilot whose disparaging comments about gays and older flight attendants were transmitted over an air-traffic control frequency.

The Southwest pilot was talking with another crew member and apparently didn't realize that his microphone was on.

Southwest said Wednesday that the pilot was reinstated after going through diversity training. The incident happened in March and was reported this week by KPRC-TV in Houston.

The president of the Southwest flight attendants' union local said his group asked its lawyers Wednesday to consider filing a bias complaint with the federal government.

The union official, Thom McDaniel, said attendants "do important work and should not be demeaned by pilots, managers or anyone." He said Southwest tried to dismiss the pilot's comments by calling them a private conversation.

On a tape of the two-and-a-half minute rant, the pilot can be heard talking about wanting to socialize with co-workers but complaining that many were gay or too old or too heavy. Sometimes using profanity and slurs, he called them "a continuous stream of gays and grannies and grandes." An air-traffic controller in Houston toldpilots in the area to check if their microphone was stuck open.

"The actions of this pilot are, without question, inconsistent with the professional behavior and overall respect that we require from our employees," said Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King. She said the pilot was reprimanded and suspended without pay, although she wouldn't say for how long. She said he apologized to air-traffic controllers and his bosses at Southwest.

Southwest said it also apologized to its flight attendants and pilots.

King declined to identify the pilot. She said he has worked for Southwest for more than a dozen years and has an otherwise good record.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it alerted Southwest after determining that the pilot on the tape was likely from Southwest.

FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said the incident occurred at a time in the flight when personal conversions are allowed in the cockpit but that the FAA "expects a higher level of professionalism from flight crews."

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