Southwest Airlines trims planned flights due to staffing shortage

Officials with Southwest Airlines on Thursday announced cuts to its upcoming flight schedule as the company tries to hire thousands of new employees by the end of the year amid a staffing shortage.

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Airline officials said they plan to cut more flights in December and estimated that they would trim flight capacity by about 8% in the fourth quarter, as opposed to the 5% cut they had previously planned.

“We have reined in our capacity plans to adjust to the current staffing environment,” Southwest’s board chairman and CEO, Gary Kelly, said Thursday in a statement. He added that flight planning for 2022 “reflects more conservative staffing assumptions, as well, all compared to historical norms.”

Bob Jordan, who will become Southwest’s CEO in 2022, told Bloomberg News that the airline will “continue to moderate capacity as long as we have staffing challenges.” Company officials said Southwest aims to hire about 5,000 new employees by the end of the year and that as of Thursday, the company was more than halfway to that goal.

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Kelly said Southwest was “aggressive” in planning for flights in the third quarter of 2021 as demand for air travel began to pick back up in September after stagnating due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“I pushed a little too hard there,” he said during a conference call Thursday, according to The Wall Street Journal. “We’ve gone from not enough to do to too much to do in a very short period of time.”

>> Related: Southwest Airlines cancels hundreds more flights

In quarterly financial results released Thursday, Southwest said that operational challenges caused flight cancellations this month that cost the company $75 million. Southwest canceled more than 2,000 flights in a 48-hour period earlier this month after weather and air-traffic control issues caused delays, which were exacerbated by the company’s staffing shortage, according to the Journal.

The company reported a net income of $446 million for the third quarter and a net loss of $135 million, excluding the impact of government payments aimed at supporting businesses struggling due to the pandemic.