A bag handler pushes a bag near a Southwest Airlines aircraft at Hollywood Burbank Airport in Burbank, California on October 10, 2021.
Robyn Beck | AFP | Getty Images
Southwest Airlines offered its flight attendants new incentives on Saturday to avoid further flight cancellations, especially during the main holiday season, amid staffing concerns, according to an internal memo.
Southwest canceled more than 2,000 flights around Columbus Day weekend, disruptions cost $ 75 million, according to the airline. American Airlines, which also offers flight attendants and other crews additional pay for vacation shifts, struggled with mass flight cancellations late last month and early November.
Flight attendants, pilots and other operations staff could earn up to 120,000 Rapid Rewards points valued at more than $ 1,400. Flight attendants can work 36 days between November 15 and January 14, while cabin crews who work 28 days during that period could earn 60,000 points, the note said. Southwest said the number of qualifying shifts or days varies by work group.
The number of no-shows or unreachable flight attendants has risen recently, Southwest’s vice president of Sonya Lacore, vice president of flight operations, said in her message to cabin crew that was reviewed by CNBC. Sick calls have also increased when the company lifted emergency policies that required flight attendants to produce a medical certificate when they called sick. Lacore said, for example, when the airline last lifted these procedures on Nov. 9, two consecutive hours of sickness went from 20 to 90 an hour.
“We have a great opportunity here to maintain that commitment to you and you amid a difficult time for all of us,” wrote Lacore. “Our first step in addressing this and actively working to keep operations safe was to cut the schedule and we believe this incentive program will take us one more step in the right direction.”
The airline also offers ground operations workers triple pay for working Thanksgiving and Christmas and double pay for overtime between November 17th through November 30th and December 17th through 3rd half salary.
The airlines had offered their employees early retirement packages and leave of absence to cut their labor costs during the pandemic, but were under staff shortages when demand picked up again this year. More flight attendants are returning from vacation to the US and the Southwest, while these and other airlines are also aggressively hiring.