Passengers disembark from a Southwest Airlines flight departing from Las Vegas at Hollywood Burbank Airport in Burbank, California on October 10, 2021. Air traffic control and its own lack of available personnel.
Robyn Beck | AFP | Getty Images
Southwest Airlines has hired and trained 3,000 flight attendants so far this year, nearly triple the record number of cabin crew members for all of 2018, the airline told employees last week.
Southwest and other airlines are still scrambling to hire and train staff to meet the rebound in travel demand that executives expect will continue this fall, led by strong holiday bookings.
Airlines have been barred from laying off staff during the Covid pandemic as part of a $54 billion bailout, but have been allowed to offer staff longer furloughs or early retirement.
Southwest said it currently has more than 62,000 full-time employees. That’s more than the 60,800 it had in late 2019 before the pandemic.
Southwest has also hosted three “hiring blitzes” at its Dallas corporate campus, during which flight attendant candidates are interviewed, physical proficiency tests and other screenings with the potential for conditional job offers are conducted on-site. Another is planned for this week, Southwest said in an employee memo last week.
The airline told employees it has 7,000 flight attendant candidates in its hiring pipeline and that its turnover rate among new cabin crew members has fallen to 2.5%, down from 6.1% in 2019.
The hiring frenzy comes as the flight attendant union and management at Southwest were locked in contract negotiations. According to the memo, talks with a federal mediator are scheduled to begin Nov. 1 in Dallas.
Southwest and United Airlines flight attendants, represented by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, will picket Tuesday at major airports to demand better working conditions.
Separately, Southwest announced Monday that it will be promoting its chief commercial officer, Andrew Watterson, to replace COO Mike Van de Ven, who will become the airline’s “executive advisor” in 2023.