Southwest Airlines fired pilot who spoke in Spanish during engine fire incident

Robin Guess

A Southwest Airlines captain has filed a complaint against the airline after he was sacked for speaking to passengers rather than flying the B737 aircraft during an engine fire emergency in 2023.

David Legeros was in command of the B737-700 aircraft that took off from William P. Hobby International Airport (HOU) in Houston, Texas on August 15, 2023. The flight was headed for Cancun International Airport (CUN) in Mexico. 

Less than 20 minutes later, the aircraft returned to Houston after flames spewed from the aircraft’s right-hand engine. 

Although the plane was able to land safely and no injuries were reported, court documents showed that instead of taking control of the flight, Legeros chose to let the First Officer fly while he communicated with Houston air traffic control for a return emergency landing.

Moreover, the court papers state that Legeros then addressed passengers in Spanish and English to try and reassure them that the situation was under control.

According to a report by Paddle Your Own Kanoo, Legeros stated that it was the decision to let the first officer fly during the diversion that “landed him in hot water” with Southwest management because the airline’s standard operating procedures mandate that the captain should take control of the aircraft during an emergency situation.

Legeros reasoned that if he had taken control of the plane, the aircraft could have suddenly jolted and detached the burning engine, leaving the risk of it falling to the ground.

“Had SWA (Southwest Airlines) decided to reward Mr Legeros, or even ignore him, following his heroics, this story would be over, but SWA decided to punish him,” the petition states.

The court documents also allege that Southwest management had criticized Legeros for speaking Spanish to the passengers, despite claims that the majority of the flight passengers were Hispanic. 

When investigations concluded on Flight WN307, the airline found that Legeros was engaged in serious misconduct, and, according to documents, was “forced” to sign a ‘Last Chance Agreement’.

“Based on the pretense of some ‘serious misconduct,’ but in reality due to his status as a person of color, SWA [ Southwest Airlines] has been looking to push Mr. Legeros out,” the complaint alleges.

While Legeros was still grounded from duty, he was advised that the airline needed to conduct a ‘Fitness for Duty’ psychological evaluation in January 2024.

Legeros claimed he could not attend the initial evaluation due to his father being in hospital.

The lawsuit claims that Southwest now wants him to attend a meeting with its Chief Pilot where he would be allowed to resign or be terminated.

Legeros is seeking injunctive relief to prevent Southwest from compelling a psychological exam or the Fitness for Duty evaluation.

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