Southwest Airlines’ exec says a ‘staffing cushion’ is needed to avoid further schedule reductions

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737

Southwest Airlines canceled over 3,000 flights in a weekend meltdown, leaving passengers stranded.
COO Mike Van de Ven says the airline needs a “staffing cushion” to better prepare for disruptions.
Van de Ven warns the company may reduce its winter flight schedule if it cannot find enough workers.

Southwest Airlines’ COO Mike Van de Ven told employees on Sunday that a “staffing cushion” is needed to prevent further schedule reductions this winter, according to a video transcript obtained by CNN. Southwest confirmed the existence of the video to Insider.

Southwest Airlines experienced a chaotic meltdown over the weekend that caused over 3,000 flight cancellations and left thousands of passengers stranded. The breakdown highlights the continued impact of staffing shortages, and Southwest COO Mike Van de Ven warned the company’s November and December schedules might be cut as a result, according to the video.

Van de Ven said the company needs to build a “staffing cushion” to better prepare for unexpected disruptions. However, he explained Southwest is willing to further reduce its winter schedule if it cannot find enough workers. From June to August, over 99,000 Southwest flights were delayed, in part due to staffing shortages, according to Bloomberg, forcing the carrier to cut an average of 162 flights per day from October 7 to November 5.

“I wish I could tell you that we are out of the woods, but I cannot. The environment for our entire industry remains fragile,” Van de Ven said in the video.

Southwest told Insider that Van de Van’s message to staff emphasized that the company has reduced its flight schedule before to improve the customer experience and it won’t hesitate to do it again.

According to Bloomberg, CEO-designate Bob Jordan said the company has only hired about half of the 5,000 employees it wants to bring on by the end of the year, and Van de Ven warned in the video that the company still does not have enough flight crew members.

The company has “a very aggressive hiring plan and is seeing a consistent stream of new hires come on board.” Van de Ven said. “We are still not where we want to be with staffing, and in particular with our flight crews.”

While management wants to tackle the problem with reduced flight schedules and increased hiring, Southwest Airlines Pilots Association president Casey Murray told CNN that isn’t the answer.

“We don’t want the company canceling flights. We don’t want the company hiring more people to fill in an inefficient scheduling process,” Murray told the news channel. “Until the company corrects some of these issues with how they schedule and reroute pilots and flight attendants, we’re going to continue to see these issues next week and over the holidays. That’s what we want to see avoided.”

Southwest blamed air traffic control issues and severe weather in Florida for the weekend disruptions. According to Bloomberg, Jordan said the airline’s large operation in Florida led to the snowball effect because about 50% of its flights either start or end the day in the Sunshine state.

While Southwest attributed the breakdown to ATC and weather, the FAA tweeted its Jacksonville en-route center was impacted by limited staff, weather, and military training for only a few hours on Friday, and the issues did not snowball into the weekend. Rather, the agency said some airlines were having scheduling issues due to displaced flight crews, which Jordan admitted was a factor in the four-day fiasco.

“Crews were struggling to move and you end up in short order with aircraft and crews in the wrong spot. It’s really difficult to repair and put those things back together,” Jordan told Bloomberg.

Jordan also apologized to customers for the flight disruptions.

“People have plans and we caused a lot of disruptions and I apologize for that,” he said. “It’s never what we want to do.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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