With staff shortages hampering operations, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is offering overtime bonuses to encourage employees to work extra shifts. Ground-operations agents, cargo agents, and flight attendants will become eligible for double pay when working overtime shifts in July.
Southwest Airlines keen to avoid a repeat of last weekend’s cancelations and delays
With the Independence Day holiday weekend on the horizon, Southwest is keen to avoid a repeat of last weekend when 729 flights were canceled and a further 3,8313 flights delayed. Southwest attributed this to bad weather. However, the airline also experienced a significant problem finding enough flight attendants to work its scheduled services.
As first reported by CNBC, Alan Kasher, Southwest’s executive vice president of daily operations, sent employees an email on Monday titled “We Need Your Help This Holiday Travel Week.”
“To address the situation for the short term, we will be incentivizing our Ops Employees during this busy holiday travel week by increasing overtime pay from July 1 through July 7,” the email read.
While CARES Act funding ruled over involuntary retrenchment and furloughs, airlines have lost thousands of highly trained and hard to replace employees via voluntary retirement and redundancy processes in the last year.
A further memo issued on Monday, this time from Sonya Lacore, Southwest’s vice president of inflight operations, confirmed the double pay overtime rate.
Pilots also offered double pay overtime at Southwest
Southwest Airlines has also offered double pay for its pilots who work overtime. Southwest confirmed to CNBC it had 500 First Officers out on voluntary leave. But the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) calls the offer “inadequate.”
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Casey Murray, SWAPA’s president, said the overtime offer was a temporary patch that failed to address deeper underlying problems at Southwest. A training backlog means there are not enough pilots to staff Southwest’s schedule.
“It has been clear (since spring!) that our operation was on track for a brutal summer caused by overselling a schedule that they absolutely cannot fill.”
But Southwest maintains it hasn’t expanded too fast and has the resources to staff its flights.
“We were prepared for this increase in travel demand with the aircraft and staffing we planned for the summer, and this increase is welcome news after our business suffered last year,” Alan Kasher’s email reads. “However, irregular operations disrupt even the best plans and can make it difficult to recover the operation quickly.”
Staff shortages a potential Achilles’ heel at Southwest
Southwest Airlines says bookings, passenger traffic, and fares are all improving ahead of expectations in a recent market update. The airline expects its July 2021 capacity to be down just 3% on its July 2019 capacity.
Simple Flying has extensively reported on Southwest’s recent rapid route expansion. Earlier this month, the airline increased an order for 737 MAXs it had previously placed with Boeing. After a horror 2020, the omens are looking good at Southwest Airlines. But staff shortages remain a potential Achilles’ heel.
Southwest Airlines isn’t the only airline dealing with this problem. American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have all suffered similar staff shortages that have caused mass cancelations. American Airlines had a recent similar nightmare weekend to Southwest. That airline has since proactively trimmed its July timetables to account for a flight crew shortage.
Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines is counting on enough employees agreeing to work overtime as a short-term stopgap to prevent a repeat of last weekend’s cancelations.