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Southwest Offers Workers Double Pay to Avoid July Travel Snags

Southwest Airlines Co. LUV +0.08% is increasing overtime pay, including offering double-time pay for flight attendants, in an effort to head off potential staffing crunches during the Fourth of July travel weekend.

Southwest’s operation has been snarled by technical snafus and a run of bad weather in recent weeks. The airline canceled hundreds of flights over the weekend and Monday as severe thunderstorms hit some of its busiest airports, including Denver, Chicago, St. Louis and parts of Florida.

Airline executives said they hoped the extra pay would encourage employees to pick up shifts or work additional trips in the first week of July. Flight attendants are eligible to earn double-time for picking up open trips during that period, according to a memo Monday from Sonya Lacore, vice president of inflight operations. The memo was previously reported by CNBC.

Southwest will also offer double-time pay to ground-operations agents and cargo agents who pick up extra shifts during the same period, a spokesman said. The move is the latest sign of the challenges airlines are facing in keeping up with the rapid rise in travel demand this summer, which has made more typical disruptions such as weather harder to manage. American Airlines Group Inc., AAL +1.00% which has faced similar issues, said earlier this month that it would pare back its July flying in an effort to alleviate potential strains on its operations.

Many of Southwest’s recent cancellations have occurred in anticipation of bad weather, a spokesman said Monday. The airline said the cancellations give customers more time to adjust, minimize delays at airports and reduce the chances of having to divert flights because of sudden storms. Recovering from those types of problems often takes days.

The airline’s pilots said the offer of extra pay was “a temporary patch at best” that won’t address a deeper problem: a training backlog that has meant there aren’t enough pilots available to fly the ambitious summer schedule the carrier set out.

“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,” the union wrote in a message to pilots on Monday. Casey Murray, the union’s president, said the pilots wanted broader changes to address scheduling problems and didn’t come to an agreement with the company on the offer of double-time pay.

A Southwest spokesman said the airline planned its ramp-up of summer flight with its pilot training needs in mind.

Alan Kasher, Southwest’s executive vice president of daily operations, wrote in another message to employees that staffing issues are a short-term problem. While the airline is offering many more flights than a year ago, its schedule is still smaller than before the Covid-19 pandemic. It has also spread flying across a broader network, with fewer daily flights between many pairs of cities. That, coupled with full flights, has at times made it harder to recover and rebook customers after things go wrong, he wrote.

“We were prepared for this increase in travel demand with the aircraft and staffing we planned for the summer, and this increase is welcome news after our business suffered last year,” he wrote. “However, irregular operations disrupt even the best plans and can make it difficult to recover the operation quickly.”

This article originally appeared on Wall Street Journal

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