Southwest Airlines cuts 65,000 spring flights with continued staffing shortage

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines has cut more than 65,000 flights from its March through May schedules, seriously reducing spring flying because of “continuing challenges with available staffing.”

Southwest, which made the announcement in a regulatory filing Tuesday, said that it now expects its flying schedule to be about 4% lower for 2022 than it was in 2019, even after stronger than anticipated bookings so far this year. For the second quarter alone, Southwest Airlines’ capacity will be about 7% lower than it was in 2019, even though travelers are eager to fly.

“The company’s current leisure revenue trends for spring break travel are strong and above 2019 levels,” the company said.

Competing airlines are cutting schedules for other reasons that are making it difficult for carriers to return to pre-pandemic levels of flying.

On Tuesday, Chicago-based United said it was cutting its schedule “in response to several macroeconomic factors including rising fuel prices as well as expected aircraft delivery delays.” Recently, Seattle-based Alaska Airlines and Las Vegas-based Allegiant said they were cutting flight schedules by about 5% with high fuel prices that have surged even higher after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions.

After adding more than 5,000 workers last year, Southwest Airlines said in January that it plans to add another 8,000 new employees this year. Southwest recently increased its starting wage from $15 to $17 an hour in January, a bump that is expected to cost the company $20 million to $25 million this year.

“While we’ve got a great plan for 2022, it all comes down to hiring,” Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan said in January.

Southwest had previously planned about 345,000 flights for the March through May period, but has cut that to less than 280,000, according to flight schedule service Diio by Cirium.

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