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Southwest Airlines Taps Flight Attendants to Push Wheelchairs For Free as Hiring Crisis Continues

Southwest Airlines Taps Flight Attendants to Push Wheelchairs For Free as Hiring Crisis Continues

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Southwest Airlines is asking flight attendants and office managers to help out at airports pushing wheelchairs and answering passenger queries during the busy holiday travel season. Staffers who agree to help out the airline will be doing so on a voluntary basis and won’t receive any additional compensation on top of their normal wages.

In a statement, the Dallas-based carrier said putting out a request for volunteer workers was perfectly normal and followed on from a similar initiative over the Thanksgiving period.

“The invitation to volunteer in select airports during peak seasons is not uncommon at Southwest — in fact, a similar invitation went out to some headquarters-based employees for the peak, Thanksgiving period a few weeks ago,” a spokesperson told Points, Miles and Martinis.

“Providing additional support in airports during the holidays is simply one more way we deliver Southwest Hospitality to each other, and our Customers, during certain peak travel periods.”

Volunteers are being sought to help out at 11 airports across the United States including Atlanta, Phoenix, Dallas Love Field and Newark.

Many airlines use volunteer staff during peak travel periods to help passengers with wayfinding and to answer general questions but Southwest has specifically told volunteers that they may also be expected to push wheelchairs.

Airlines and airports are facing the same hiring challenges as many other sectors and are struggling to fill low-paid roles such as wheelchair pushers. Earlier this month, chief executive Gary Kelly warned the difficult “hiring environment” would dampen Southwest’s ability to boost earnings in the years ahead.

Southwest is on a hiring spree for around 5,000 new employees including flight attendants and many ground roles. The carrier has managed to already fill 80 per cent of those roles but attrition is running far higher than Southwest expected.

The airline expects a busy holiday travel period despite renewed COVID-19 worries. The Omicron variant hasn’t yet, however, hit forward bookings which are still largely being driven by leisure travelers.

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