Southwest Airlines has hired and trained 3,000 flight attendants so far this year, nearly triple its record cabin crew member hiring in all of 2018, the carrier told staff last week.
Southwest and other carriers are still racing to hire and train staff to cater to a rebound in travel demand, which executives expect to hold up this fall, led by strong leisure bookings.
Airlines were prohibited from laying off staff during the pandemic under the terms of a $54 billion bailout but were allowed to offer employees extended leaves of absence or early retirement.
Southwest said it currently has more than 62,000 full-time equivalent employees. That’s more than the 60,800 it had at the end of 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Southwest has also hosted three “Hiring Blitzes” at its corporate campus in Dallas, where flight attendant candidates are interviewed, perform physical performance standards tests and other screenings with a potential for on-the-spot contingent job offers. Another is scheduled for this week, Southwest said in an employee memo last week.
The carrier told staff it it has 7,000 flight attendants in its hiring pipeline and that its attrition rate among new cabin crew members has dropped to 2.5% compared with 6.1% in 2019.
The hiring spree comes as Southwest flight attendants’ union and management have been locked in contract negotiations. Talks with a federal mediator are set to begin Nov. 1 in Dallas, according to the memo.
Southwest and United Airlines flight attendants, which are represented by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, are set to picket at major airports on Tuesday to demand better working conditions.