Southwest, American airlines offering incentives to boost staffing during holiday travel surge

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Major U.S. airlines are offering staff incentives to work during peak holiday travel times to ensure they are equipped to handle the expected crush of travelers. 

To make sure they meet the demand in flyers this holiday season, Southwest and American airlines are aggressively trying to increase staffing. They have also sent notices to current employees over the past month to encourage them to work amid the bustling season where travelers are expected to pack into airports all across the country. 

Air travel has "almost completely" recovered this holiday season from a significant decline during the pandemic, up 80% over last year, according to AAA estimates. The Adobe Digital Economy Index indicated that flight bookings have surged for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and are topping pre-pandemic 2019 bookings by 3.2%. 

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Southwest Airlines told FOX Business that it's rolling out its Holiday Incentive Program that rewards eligible operational employees with Rapid Rewards Points. The points, which are redeemable for travel, are the carrier's way of thanking workers for "their dedication to serving our customers during this special time of year," according to Southwest. 

A Southwest Airlines employee helps a passenger to check in at a counter at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on October 11, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia.  (Alex Wong/Getty Images / Getty Images)

In its third-quarter earnings report, CEO Gary Kelly also noted that the carrier is "aggressively hiring to a goal of approximately 5,000 new employees by the end of this year" in order to support its winter operations. 

Likewise, American is also offering incentives for employees and staffing up ahead of the season. 

Earlier this month, the carrier announced it was offering flight attendants a one-time holiday pay premium. 

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Flight attendants working "within the holiday peak periods" will receive a 150% premium, according to the memo from Brady Byrnes, vice president of flight service at American. Those periods are from Nov. 23 to Nov. 29 and Dec. 22 to Jan 2.

TickerSecurityLastChangeChange %
LUVSOUTHWEST AIRLINES CO.49.07+0.68+1.41%
AALAMERICAN AIRLINES GROUP, INC.20.33+0.04+0.20%

If a flight attendant has no absences between Nov. 15 and Jan. 2, the Texas-based carrier is offering a 300% pay premium for hours worked during the holiday peak periods. 

Meanwhile, American Airlines Chief Operating Officer David Seymour said it's also "welcoming back many team members and aggressively onboarding many new hires as well."  

Seymour noted that nearly 1,800 flight attendants have already returned from leaves in November with 800 more expected to return in December. There are also 600 new flight attendants that are expected to join the team by the end of next month. 

Overall, the airline is anticipating 4,000 new team members throughout the fourth quarter, according to Seymour. 

Miami International Airport, American Airlines, curbside luggage check-in.  (Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images / Getty Images)

AMERICAN AIRLINES UPPING FLIGHT ATTENDANT HOLIDAY PAY AS CRITICAL TRAVEL SEASON NEARS

The efforts from Southwest and American comes after both carriers faced major disruptions to their operations earlier this fall, from bad weather to staffing challenges, which resulted in thousands of canceled and delayed flights for droves of travelers.

The issues, which lasted for multiple days, raised questions about whether the airlines were prepared for the holiday season, where travel normally picks up even in the midst of a pandemic. 

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