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

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  • Southwest Airlines introduced incentive funding for flight attendants and other employees.
  • Southwest’s incentive programs aim to avoid a repeat of last month’s more than 2,000 flight cancellations.
  • Staffing shortages have caused disruption at Southwest, American, Spirit and others over the past year.
  • American has also introduced attendance incentives for its employees.

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Southwest Airlines on Saturday offered new incentives aimed at avoiding more flight cancellations, especially in peak holiday periods, amid concerns from employees, according to an internal memo to its flight attendants.

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Southwest canceled more than 2,000 flights around the Columbus Day weekend, the air carrier said, costing it $75 million. American Airlines, which is offering flight attendants and other crew extra pay for holiday shifts, struggled with massive flight cancellations late last month and even early November.

Flight attendants, pilots and other operations personnel can receive up to 120,000 Rapid Reward Points, which are valued at more than $1,400. The note states that flight attendants are eligible to work 36 days between November 15 and January 14, while cabin crew who work 28 days in that period can get 60,000 points. Southwest said the number of qualifying shifts or days varied by work group,

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The number of no-show or unreachable flight attendants has increased recently, Southwest’s vice president of inflight operations Sonya Lakor, said in her note to cabin crew, which was reviewed by CNBC. There has also been a rise in sick calls after the company removed emergency policies that required flight attendants to show doctor’s notes when they were sick. For example, Lacor said when the airline last lifted those procedures was on November 9. Sick calls went from 20 hours to 90 hours for two consecutive hours.

“We have a great opportunity to maintain that commitment to him and you in what has been a difficult time for all of us,” Lacor wrote. “Our first step in addressing this, and working proactively to protect the operation, was to reduce the schedule, and we believe this incentive program will give us another step in the right direction.”

The airline is offering ground operations employees triple pay for working Thanksgiving and Christmas, and double pay for overtime shifts between November 17 and 30 and December 17 to January 3, with time-off half pay.

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

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