Southwest offers staff extra pay, frequent flyer miles to avoid holiday travel disruptions

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A baggage handler pushes a bag near a Southwest Airlines airplane at Hollywood Burbank Airport in Burbank, California, October 10, 2021.

Robyn Beck | AFP | Getty Images

Southwest Airlines on Saturday offered its flight attendants new incentives aimed at avoiding more flight cancellations, particularly over the peak holiday period, amid concerns over staffing, according to an internal memo.

Southwest canceled more than 2,000 flights around Columbus Day weekend, disruptions the air carrier said cost it $75 million. American Airlines, which is also offering flight attendants and other crews extra pay for holiday shifts, struggled with mass flight cancellations late last month and in early November as well.

Flight attendants, pilots and other operations employees could receive up to 120,000 Rapid Rewards points, valued at more than $1,400. Flight attendants are eligible for working 36 days between Nov. 15 and Jan. 14, while cabin crews who work 28 days over that period could get 60,000 points, the note stated. Southwest said that the number of qualifying shifts or days varies by work group.

The number of no-shows or unreachable flight attendants has been elevated recently, Southwest’s vice president of Sonya Lacore, vice president of inflight operations, said in her note to cabin crews, which was reviewed by CNBC. Sick calls have surged as well when the company has lifted emergency policies that required flight attendants to show a doctor’s note if calling out ill. For example, Lacore said when the airline last lifted those procedures on Nov. 9 sick calls went from 20 an hour to 90 an hour for two hours in a row.

“We have a great opportunity here to uphold that commitment to them, and you, in the midst of what has been a difficult time for us all,” wrote Lacore. “Our first step in addressing this, and actively working to protect the operation, was to reduce the schedule, and we believe this incentive program will take us another step in the right direction.”

The airline is also offering as much as triple pay to ground operations employees for working Thanksgiving and Christmas and double pay for overtime shifts between Nov. 17 through Nov. 30 and Dec. 17 through Jan. 3, up from time-and-a-half pay.

Airlines had offered staff early retirement packages and leaves of absence to cut their labor bills during the pandemic but found themselves short-staffed when demand bounced back this year. More flight attendants are returning to American and Southwest from leave, while those airlines and others are also aggressively hiring.



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