Southwest Airlines recently offered its flight attendants a number of financial incentives to work through the end of the year. The move is calculated to allow the airline to prepare for a busy travel season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day as well as prevent costly flight cancelations.
Southwest canceled more than 2,000 flights last month, which cost the air carrier $75 million, CNBC reports. The new incentives, which include extra pay and frequent flyer miles, are being offered to prevent similar disruptions during the holiday season.
Interestingly, news of Southwest’s incentive plan comes a little over a week after American Airlines offered its staff financial incentives for working through the holiday season.
A Turbulent Market
A number of factors combine to create what has become a volatile situation for air carriers.
First, when air travel essentially ground to a halt last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, air carriers encouraged workers to take leaves of absence or accept buyouts. Then, when air travel picked up again this year, some carriers struggled with staffing shortages.
Next, and there’s no other way to put this, the workplace has become dangerous for flight attendants. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) notes that it received 5,114 reports of unruly passengers this year. The agency has even proposed $225,287 in civil penalties against 10 airline passengers for alleged unruly behavior involving physical assault.
Flight attendants report that they have been hit, kicked, spat on, and verbally harassed by airline passengers. In what is, sadly, the most recent incident, a Southwest employee was taken to a Dallas hospital last weekend after being “verbally and physically” assaulted, CNN reports.
Finally, as COVID-19 travel restrictions further loosen and the availability of COVID-19 booster vaccines become more readily available, air travel is on the rise. Most airlines now expect the six-week period between Thanksgiving and year end to be exceptionally busy.
Southwest’s Employee Incentive Plan
Under Southwest’s employee incentive plan, flight attendants, pilots, and other operations employees could receive up to 120,000 Rapid Rewards points, valued at more than $1,400, for working between November 15 and January 14. The airline is also offering as much as triple pay to ground operations employees for working Thanksgiving and Christmas, and double pay for overtime shifts between November 17 and November 30, and December 17 to January 3, CNBC reports.
The airline’s offer is intended to address two issues. First, the number of no-shows or unreachable flight attendants has recently increased, Southwest’s Vice President of inflight operations, Sonya Lacore, wrote in an email to cabin crews, CNBC reports. Sick calls from flight attendants have also surged, she wrote.
American’s Staff Incentive Plan
American, as was the case for Southwest, was forced to cancel hundreds of flights last month. Many of those cancelations were the result of staffing shortages of flight attendants. Earlier this month, American announced an incentive plan to prevent similar cancelations.
Under the plan, American’s flight attendants and reserve cabin crew members who work flights between November 23 and November 29 or December 22 to January 2, will receive time-and-a-half pay, according to an internal American memo, CNBC reports. If they also have no absences from November 15 to January 2, those staff members will receive another 150 percent pay for those trips.
“To ensure we’re providing certainty for both our customers and team members, we’re doubling down on our efforts related to our schedule and staffing,” American’s COO David Seymour said in a staff note that was obtained by CNBC. “On the schedule front, we’ve ensured that November and December are built to meet customer demand and that they are fully supportable by our staffing.”