Southwest offers employees extra pay, frequent flights to avoid holiday interruptions

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

Robyn Beck | AFP | Getty pictures

Southwest Airlines on Saturday offered its flight attendants new incentives to avoid more flight cancellations, especially during the holidays, due to concerns about manning, according to an internal memo.

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

Air hostesses, pilots and other operations staff can receive up to 1[ads1]20,000 Rapid Rewards points, worth more than $ 1,400. The flight attendants are eligible to work 36 days between November 15 and January 14, while cabin crew working 28 days during this period can get 60,000 points, it says in the note. Southwest said the number of qualifying shifts or days varies by workgroup.

The number of missing attendees or unreachable flight attendants has been increased recently, Southwest Vice President Sonya Lacore, vice president of operations on board, said in a note to cabin crew, which was reviewed by CNBC. Sick leave has also increased when the company has repealed the emergency policy which required the flight attendants to show a doctor’s statement if they called the sick. For example, Lacore said that when the airline last repealed these procedures on November 9, sick leave went from 20 per hour to 90 per hour for two hours in a row.

“We have a great opportunity here to maintain that commitment to them and to you, in the midst of what has been a difficult time for all of us,” Lacore wrote. “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 one step further in the right direction.”

The airline also offers as much as triple pay to employees in ground operations to work Thanksgiving and Christmas and double pay for overtime shifts between November 17 to November 30 and December 17 to January 3, up from hour-and-a-half pay .

Airlines had offered employees early retirement packages and leave to cut their work bills during the pandemic, but found themselves deficient when demand declined this year. Several flight attendants are returning to the Americas and the Southwest from leave, while these airlines and others are also hiring aggressively.

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