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Almost a Third of Southwest Employees Opt for Early Retirement or a Leave of Absence

Almost a Third of Southwest Employees Opt for Early Retirement or a Leave of Absence

In a bid to prevent the first involuntary lay-off’s in the company’s history, Southwest today said around 28 per cent of employees had either opted to leave the airline altogether or had volunteered for an extended leave of absence in the hope that passenger demand has picked up when they are due to return.

Some 4.400 employees have applied to take an early retirement option which had been offered with additional benefits to encourage workers to sign up. The airline said on Monday that all of the applications will be accepted. A further 12,500 staffers have offered to take “emergency time off”, although Southwest will evaluate those applications on operational requirements.

Photo Credit: Southwest Airlines

The Texas-based Southwest currently employs nearly 61,000 employees. Sources claim around 25 per cent of the airline’s pilots may have chosen an early-out, while as many as 33 per cent of Southwest’s flight attendants have chosen to leave Southwest earlier than planned.

“I am incredibly grateful to those of you who answered the call,” Southwest’s chief executive, Gary Kelly told employees in a telephone dial-in.

Last week, Kelly issued a dire warning, telling staffers that travel demand would need to triple if the airline were to avoid involuntarily furloughing employees for the first time in its history.

“The recent rise in Covid cases and increases in regional restrictions on businesses and states requiring quarantine aren’t positive developments for our business,” Kelly warned in a recent memo. “We’re very concerned about the impact on already weak travel demand,” he continued.

“Although furloughs and layoffs remain our very last resort, we can’t rule them out as a possibility in this really bad environment,” Kelly explained. “We need a significant recovery by the end of this year, and that’s roughly triple the number of passengers from where we are today.”

American and United Airlines have also asked their employees to take early reitement or an extended leave of absence in order to avoid involuntary furloughs. American believes it may have an overage of 16,000 staffer, while United has estimated an overage of as many as 36,000 employees.

Delta asked pilots last week to take a pay cut of around 15 per cent to stave off involuntary furloughs of over 2,000 pilots.

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