Southwest Airlines Trims Flying Schedule After Worker Outcry

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Southwest Airlines Co. will reduce its flight schedule for the last four months of the year after employees assailed the discount carrier for understaffing operations during a summer marred by delays and cancellations. 

Average daily flights will fall by 27 to 3,304 from Sept. 7 through Oct. 6, Southwest said in an emailed statement Thursday. The carrier will cull an average of 162 flights a day from Oct. 7 to Nov. 5, leaving about 3,420. Other schedule adjustments are likely for non-holiday periods in November and December, the company said.

“To any Southwest customer whose journey with us fell short of their expectation this summer, we offer our sincerest apologies,” said Southwest Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly. He told employees, “As our business recovery continues, we’re 100% dedicated to improving the quality of your work day.”

Southwest unveiled the schedule cuts two weeks after warning that surging virus infections were crimping sales and prompting customers to cancel flight reservations. The company has also absorbed a wave of employee criticism, with flight attendants complaining of overwork and pilots threatening to protest publicly if operations don’t improve. Southwest suffered a rash of delayed and canceled flights this summer as travel rebounded. 

The cuts come atop previous reductions Southwest made to adjust for the typical slowdown in September and to respond to a surge in new Covid infections that have curbed travel demand. 

Last week, Southwest Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven told employees that the surge in summer travel demand “has taken a toll on our operation and put a significant strain on all of you.”

Southwest is offering incentives to workers who refer job seekers after seeing a “sharp decline” in qualified applicants, according to an internal memo last week. The Dallas-based company is trying to hire 4,500 people after a combination of bad weather and low staffing levels forced a rash of flight cancellations this summer. 

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