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Southwest to Pay $45-Million in Pilot Bonuses after Operational Breakdown

Penance in Dollars

Dallas, Texas-based Southwest Airlines—the world’s largest low-cost air-carrier and one of the United States’ major airlines—continues to live down the consequences of operational shortfalls that egregiously and irreparably disrupted the holiday travel plans of thousands of its passengers.

The airline—amidst the fallout of more than 16,000 flights canceled or delayed between 21 December and 31 December 2022—has agreed to provide pilots and other employees additional compensation for the concerted efforts they put forth during the year-end mayhem. Southwest asserted it would pay millions of dollars in bonus "gratitude pay" to employees who worked between 20 December 2022 and 03 January 2023.

A Southwest Airlines spokesperson disclosed that pilots are among "several operational workgroups" offered bonus pay for their efforts during the "unprecedented disruptions over the holidays."

On Thursday, 19 January 2023, nearly ten-thousand member pilots of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA)—the labor union by which Southwest pilots are represented—voted to accept the gratitude bonus. Including extra holiday and reassignment monies already paid, the union expects to receive an estimated $45-million in additional remuneration—equaling nearly $4,500 per pilot.

Lyn Montgomery, president of TWU Local 556—the union by which Southwest's 18,000 flight attendants are represented—confirmed the carrier had offered flight attendants additional pay as well, but did not specify what, precisely, the offer entailed. Montgomery opined the airline’s decision to compensate its flight attendants was appropriate, but not redemptive, stating: “At the behest of TWU Local 556, Southwest Airlines agreed to offer flight attendants working during the company’s operational failures a small stipend in addition to their pay. Although this is a nice gesture, it does not make up for the challenges and mishaps that flight attendants endured.”

Southwest has made public its intention to grant bonus/penance pay to employee groups other than pilots and flight attendants, but has to date identified neither the employee groups nor the amounts they are to receive.

Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan conceded the carrier has hired an aviation consulting firm to assess its recent operational blunders and recommend means by which to avoid future repetitions of such. Mr. Jordan set forth: "We've engaged a third-party global aviation consulting firm, Oliver Wyman, to complete an assessment of the event and make recommendations of additional mitigation elements for us to consider.” Jordan added: "Our Board of Directors appointed an Operations Review Committee that is working with management to understand the events and help oversee the company's response. We commit to keep you updated as we make progress on these efforts as well as additional steps to prevent an event like this from happening again."

In all, Southwest Airlines has allocated more than $1-billion of its 2023 annual operating plan to improving and maintaining its Information Technology (IT) systems.



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