Southwest Airlines will operate domestic charter flights to move Afghan refugees around the United States on behalf of the Department of Defense the airline confirmed on Sunday. The first charter flights are set to depart on Monday as thousands of refugees are set to arrive in the U.S. within the coming days.
Around 28,000 people have so far been evacuated by the U.S. military since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. Evacuees are being flown to safe, third countries like Qatar, Bahrain and even Germany before being transported to military and commercial airports on the U.S. mainland.
Six commercial airlines have been tapped by the Pentagon to provide planes and crew for the international relief effort under the Civil Reserve Air Force program. Southwest’s agreement with the Department of Defense doesn’t fall under CRAF and is a voluntary charter operation.
“We are proud to support the military’s critical humanitarian airlift mission, and we are grateful to our employees for demonstrating an eagerness to support these military efforts, once again displaying their true Southwest Heart,” a statement from the airline confirmed.
A spokesperson for the Dallas-based carrier said the airline was ready to operate four charter flights on Monday and intends to operate a similar number on both Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Of course, the Southwest Team stands ready to provide additional support to the Department of Defense if needed. Since these are Department of Defense charter flights, we are unable to discuss the specific origin or destination cities,” the statement continued.
Despite worries that Southwest is operating a packed schedule with very little leeway, the spokesperson insisted that it didn’t expect any “operational disruption” to normally scheduled services as a result of the charter flights. Nonetheless, the airline said it “appreciates customers’ support as we work to coordinate these flights throughout the week”.
Earlier on Sunday, the Department of Defense confirmed it was activating the nearly 70-year-old CRAF program to add additional capacity to the evacuation effort.
It is only the third time in the program’s history that CRAF has been activated.
American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni will each provide three aircraft for the deployment. Two aircraft will be supplied by Hawaiian and United Airlines will offer four of its aircraft to assist in the airlift.
The CRAF was last activated between February 2002 and June 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In return for helping out the military, the commercial airlines could win lucrative contracts in the future for transporting military personnel and cargo.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.