Airlines

Southwest urges employees to take extra shifts for double pay over July 4 to avoid flight disruptions

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Key Points
  • Southwest is offering flight attendants double pay.
  • Airlines encouraged thousands of employees to take leaves of absence or buyouts.
  • Southwest and others in airline industry are grappling with worker shortages.

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A Southwest Airlines flight logo is seen as the plane taxis to a gate at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, New York on March 25, 2021.
Steve Pfost | Newsday | Getty Images

Southwest Airlines is urging employees to pick up shifts by offering higher overtime pay in early July to help it avoid flight disruptions during what's expected to be a surge in Independence Day weekend travel, according to internal company memos reviewed by CNBC.

The Dallas-based airline has had to cancel hundreds of flights and delay others this month due to a combination of bad weather and a technical problem.

The push to staff up quickly shows how airlines are struggling to respond to a surge in air travel after a slump in demand during the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. airlines accepted $54 billion in federal aid in exchange for not furloughing workers. But thousands of employees at Southwest and other airlines took buyouts or leaves of absence at the urging of company executives.

"We have heard from many of you who are frustrated with our network reliability and irregular operations created by summer storms across many parts of the country," Alan Kasher, Southwest's executive vice president of daily operations, wrote in staff note posted Monday, entitled "We Need Your Help This Holiday Travel Week."

"To address the situation for the short term, we will be incentivizing our Ops Employees during this busy holiday travel week by increasing overtime pay from July 1 through July 7," he said.

Southwest flight attendants will get double pay for picking up open shifts over that period, Sonya Lacore, Southwest's vice president of inflight operations, wrote to in a separate memo to employees Monday.

Southwest is also offering double pay to ground and cargo operations employees, spokesman Brian Parrish said.

"We are delighted to welcome more travelers over the holiday period, and the Southwest Team looks forward to delivering our Southwest Hospitality to returning Customers," he said in statement.

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association told its members on Monday that it failed to reach an incentive agreement with the company for the carrier's aviators to pick up more flying.

"It has been clear (since spring!) that our operation was on track for a brutal summer caused by overselling a schedule that they absolutely cannot fill," Swapa told members.

Southwest offered double pay for pilots who pick up those shifts, which the union said was "inadequate and that they would ultimately be paying the same double time costs given the current state of the operation."

The carrier currently has 500 first officers on voluntary leave, airline spokesman Parrish said.

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