Southwest offering employees free flights as incentives for holiday work

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A Southwest Airlines flight takes off from General Mitchell International Airport Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

(The Hill) — Southwest Airlines is offering employees up to $1,600 in loyalty program points for holiday work, becoming the second airline to give workers an incentive for putting in hours during the busy travel period after labor shortages resulted in mass flight cancellations in the fall.

In return for Southwest employees working 36 to 40 days between Nov. 15 and Jan. 14, they can earn 60,000 to 120,000 Rapid Rewards points for their frequent flyer accounts, Southwest Airlines told The Dallas Morning News. Those point totals translate to roughly $700 to $1,600 that can be put toward travel costs. The holiday boost applies to all operational employees, from pilots and flight attendants to mechanics.

The airline’s announcement comes after the company cut back on flights in the fall and had to cancel more than 2,000 flights in one two-day period in early October because of labor shortages. CNN reported at that time that Southwest Airlines was down 7,000 employees from 2019 levels.

Employees at Southwest have protested mismanagement and overwork resulting from the labor shortages.

Meanwhile, flights have picked up from a pandemic lull, ahead of what is expected to be a busy holiday season. Transportation company AAA expects 53.4 million people to travel during Thanksgiving, a 13 percent bump from last year. 

American Airlines, which also experienced flight cancellations in the fall, has responded by offering its employees pay bonuses for working during the holidays. Mechanics and ramp workers at American can earn $1,000 bonuses, while flight attendants can receive triple that by making trips between Nov. 23 and Nov. 29 and Dec. 22 and Jan. 2.

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