It’s been a rough few months for major airlines, not to mention the passengers who depend on them. In recent weeks, Southwest Airlines and American Airlines canceled thousands of flights. These mass cancellations were among the highest-profile incidents, but they’re far from the only ones. In fact, a number of schedule disruptions across the industry have stranded a staggering number of travelers, and created chaos in airports and for customer service agents all around the country.
As if the situation weren’t bad enough already, many aviation executives and travel professionals expect the problem to get far worse as the holiday season gets fully underway amid high, pent-up demand for travel and industry-wide staffing shortages. In order to lessen the strain, Southwest just rolled out a new plan. Read on to find out what the major carrier is doing to stave off widespread flight cancellations.
On Saturday, Southwest Airlines rolled out a plan to offer its flight attendants major perks in the hopes the incentives could help stave off flight cancellations ahead of a heavily impacted holiday season, according to an internal memo cited by CNBC. Flight attendants, pilots, and other employees central to airlines operations could get up to 120,000 Rapid Rewards points, which carry a value of about $1,400. Southwest is also offering as much as triple pay to ground operations employees who work on the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays as well as double pay for overtime shifts undertaken during the holiday rush between Nov. 17 through Nov. 30, and Dec. 17 through Jan. 3 (up from the typical time-and-a-half pay rate).
The aim is to keep the essential airline workers on the job during the busy period between Nov. 15 and Jan. 14 when they’re needed most, and to minimize the number of canceled flights necessitated by short staffing.
The number of unreachable flight attendants and no-shows at work has been high lately, according to Southwest’s vice president of in-flight operations Sonya Lacore, in the note to cabin crews reviewed by CNBC. She also noted that the number of flight attendants who called out sick soared after the company stopped requiring flight attendants to provide a doctor’s note as a condition for doing so—and that’s a big problem for the airline.
A larger staffing shortage has plagued the entire airline industry for months: When the pandemic hit, airlines slashed employees on their rosters, encouraging them to take buyouts or furlough arrangements. But the demand for travel surged back faster than expected, leaving the airlines struggling to staff up at a time when prospective employees are in the position to be uncommonly choosy, and many jobs in the hospitality and leisure sectors are going unfilled.
The situation has “has been a difficult time for us all,” Lacore acknowledged in the memo cited in CNBC. “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.” Southwest’s recent mass cancellation cost the airline an estimated $75 million, per Business Insider.