“To any Southwest customer whose journey with us fell short of their expectation this summer, we offer our sincerest apologies,” said a statement from outgoing Southwest CEO Gary Kelly. “We’re confident these adjustments will create a more reliable travel experience.”
The airline said it is reducing its schedule by 27 flights a day in September, taking it to an average of 3,304 flights a day across its system. For October it is reducing its schedule by an average of 162 flights a day — an average of 3,420 flights.
The airline also plans to make adjustments to its schedule for the remainder of the year, though those details have yet to be announced.
The pilots union at Southwest, which is planning “informational pickets” to express its displeasure with the airline, said it welcomes the announcement — even though it means less flights for its members.
“We are pleased that Southwest has finally begun to hear the message that [the union] has been saying for months now — the current holiday schedule is not sustainable. The data shows it has the potential to be even worse than this summer has been,” said Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association. “Reduced schedules resulting in neutral/negative cash flows are not what we want. We want effective measures to reduce the waste and stress on our crews.”
The airline’s flight attendants are at “a breaking point” because of severe understaffing, according to Lyn Montgomery, president of the Transport Workers Union unit that represents the 15,400 Southwest flight attendants. She told CNN that the problem is partly because 1,000 flight attendants took early retirement offers in the early days of the pandemic.
Montgomery told CNN the airline has been regularly changing flight attendants’ schedules, pushing them into extra-long days and weeks, and adding unstaffed flights to its September flying schedule. At the same time, flight attendants are on the front lines dealing with unruly passengers — including one who the union has said knocked out two of a flight attendant’s teeth.
Southwest has acknowledged some flight attendant staffing issues this summer. Around the July 4 holiday, it offered double pay to flight attendants who picked up extra trips. Other airlines have also struggled with staffing up as travel bounced back faster than expected.
The cutback in schedule also comes at a time that the airlines are expecting air travel to slow after a busy summer.