Southwest Airlines plans to bring back all of its flight attendants who voluntarily took time away last year at the urging of the company — another sign the carrier is confident about the summer travel season.
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, which confirmed earlier this week it was bringing back 209 pilots, said Thursday that it will bring back 2,700 flight attendants on June 1, just as the summer flying season starts.
“The intended flight attendant recall, as with the recent pilot recall, is to position Southwest for planned flight increases in the summer schedule,” said Southwest spokesman Brian Parrish in a statement. “The flight increases are based upon the improvements in leisure travel demand that the airline recently reported.”
Airlines in the U.S. are prepping for a busy summer travel season after a long and brutal year in which the COVID-19 pandemic caused planes to fly nearly empty and resulted in more than $35 billion in losses last year.
Those losses aren’t expected to stop when airlines announce earnings starting next week, but carriers have said they have seen a surge in new ticket purchases as COVID-19 cases dropped starting in January and vaccine distribution ramped up.
Southwest Airlines has more than 111,000 flights scheduled for June, only slightly less than it had in June 2019 before the pandemic upended the travel industry, according to flight schedule data tracker Diio by Cirium.
Southwest isn’t the only company prepping for an increase in flying. United Airlines and JetBlue said they would resume hiring pilots, and American Airlines said it will bring back the final 3,200 flight attendants that it furloughed in October.
Last June, Southwest Airlines begged flight attendants and other employees to take a voluntary leave from work of up to 18 months as it struggled with the financial realities of a pandemic that slashed flying by more than 95% during its darkest hours. Employees who took the time off were given 50% pay and full health benefits as the company tried to cut costs.
About a quarter of all Southwest employees, some 17,000 people in all, took time off. Some did so to help the company and others to avoid flying during the pandemic. Southwest continued offering the leave programs as recently as January.
Even with the 209 pilots coming back in June, the carrier still has 850 pilots on voluntary leave.
Southwest Airlines is losing money every day, but the carrier said it started to notice an uptick in new ticket purchases around mid-February. Americans showed a renewed willingness to fly during spring break weeks, and the Transportation Security Administration has reported 28 straight days with more than 1 million passengers going through airport security checkpoints.