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Airlines offer staff holiday incentives after operational meltdowns

By Ramishah Maruf, CNN Business

Southwest Airlines is the latest carrier to offer new incentives to its employees during the holidays, as airlines gear up to avoid operational delays during a peak travel season.

The company is offering operational employees, such as flight attendants and pilots, who work qualifying shifts between November 15 and January 14 up to 120,000 Rapid Rewards Points from its frequent flyer program. The airline said the number of qualifying shifts varies by work group and was determined by each department’s holiday scheduling needs, Southwest confirmed to CNN.

Southwest had a service meltdown in October that left more than 2,000 flights canceled over four days and cost the airline $75 million. The company blamed the snafu on a combination of bad weather and a brief problem with air traffic control in Florida, as well as a lack of available staff to adjust to those problems. It has admitted that service problems caused by short staffing were occurring even before the canceled flights left thousands of angry passengers stranded.

Southwest isn’t the only carrier to incentivize its workers as the holidays loom. Last week, American Airlines said it was giving flight attendants who work during the holidays a one-time holiday pay premium, the company announced in an internal memo. The increased holiday pay comes after American’s own operational meltdown during Halloween weekend, which forced it to cancel thousands of flights partly due to staffing shortages.

American blamed the meltdown on bad weather in its Dallas-Fort Worth hub and a shortage of pilots and flight attendants.

Flight attendants for American who work between November 23 to November 29 and December 22 to January 2 will receive a 150% pay premium, according to an internal memo viewed by CNN. Those with no absences between November 15 to January 2 will receive an even higher premium of 300% for the hours they work during the peak holiday period.

“On the schedule front, we’ve ensured that November and December are built to meet customer demand and that they are fully supportable by our staffing,” COO David Seymour said in an internal staff note viewed by CNN.

During the pandemic, American furloughed 8,000 flight attendants when it anticipated federal aid for airline workers would expire.

“From pandemic-related changes to the way we must do business (including mask and other travel requirements) to the small minority of customers who cause disturbances, the last 20 months have been incredibly challenging for many personally and professionally,” Seymour said.

Airline unions say staff are at a breaking point. Many pilots and flight attendants report that they’re having trouble getting the hotel rooms they need to have the government-mandated rest they need while working. And they worry that the problems will worsen with the expected pick-up in holiday travel.

“We want that flying to get done, but we don’t want tickets sold that can’t be fulfilled,” said Capt. Dennis Tajer, an American Airlines pilot and spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, in an interview last month about the holiday season. “Are they biting off more they can chew?”

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CNN’s Chris Isidore contributed to this story.

Article Topic Follows: CNN – Business/Consumer

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