Southwest Airlines’ next CEO says carrier will cut flights next year if staff are insufficient

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A female passenger checks her luggage at the Southwest Airlines terminal at LAX.

Mel Melcon | Los Angeles Weather | Getty Images

Southwest Airlines customers have suffered hundreds of cancellations, delays and other disruptions this summer as the carrier grapples with snowballing issues due to bad weather and understaffing.

Its next CEO, Bob Jordan, has vowed not to repeat this. The airline is halfway to its goal of hiring 5,000 workers this year and has already cut its schedule for the rest of the year to avoid further service shortages. The airline, and others like Spirit and American, decided to apply an ambitious timetable last summer to try to recoup revenue lost during the pandemic, but a shortage of staff has exacerbated operational problems.

“The next question is the March schedule. We plan to stick to that, but if we’re not able to hire to stick to it, we’ll go back and consider changing the schedule,” Jordan said in an interview Thursday. “What we’re not going to do is we are not going to repeat last summer.”

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Jordan, who took over from Gary Kelly in February and is a 33-year-old employee in Southwest, told the Skift Global Forum in New York on Thursday that the carrier also plans to add 8,000 employees next year. The Dallas-based airline has approximately 56,000 employees.

Hiring has been a challenge.

“We are removing all the stops,” Jordan said. The airline increased the starting wage to $ 15 an hour and offered retention bonuses, sponsorship bonuses as well as additional pay for some higher cost of living markets like Denver, a he declared.

Jordan said he was confident he could meet his goal of adding 5,000 workers this fall, but noted the competition has been brutal. Employers, from retailers to airlines to restaurants, have struggled to fill jobs and have turned to bonuses and higher wages to attract workers.

“You see 15 dollars [an hour] at Lowe’s and McDonald’s, “he said.” The market sets the price and I’m not sure it’s completely done yet. “

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Jordan told Skift earlier that the carrier typically receives 42 or 43 applicants per open position and now sees around 14.

In August, Southwest slashed its revenue outlook for the third quarter, citing weaker bookings amid an increase in cases of the delta variant of Covid-19.

“Vacation bookings are holding up very well,” Jordan said. “It feels like we’re upside down in this delta wave.”

Southwest and other airlines have tried to make sure their own staff are vaccinated against Covid-19. United Airlines has the strictest policy: an outright mandate for its 67,000 American employees that requires them to be vaccinated, with a few exceptions, on pain of dismissal. Delta Air Lines plans in November to impose a surcharge of $ 200 per month on the company’s health insurance for unvaccinated employees.

Southwest currently offers incentives such as two days’ pay for employees who upload proof of vaccination. Jordan told TBEN he would prefer to use incentives and not issue a vaccine warrant.

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“I know the subject of vaccines and warrants is a personal one, it’s touching but at the end of the day we have to get as many people vaccinated as possible, as a country, as a company,” he said. he declares. “I would much prefer to get there through incentives, encouragement and data rather than a mandate. I would like our employees to have a choice. “

However, a government mandate on vaccines for large employers as well as government contractors could change that. Southwest fits into both categories because it operates charter flights for government and other services.

“There is a lot to learn about the rules,” he said.

Jordan said it’s not yet clear what percentage of staff are vaccinated, but the new incentives would provide more data. He assumed the company’s rate of fully immunized employees mirrors the national average, which is just over 64 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 12. .

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