Southwest Airlines offers staff referral bonuses worth $300 as carrier struggles to fill jobs

  • Southwest Airlines told staff it is having trouble hiring workers.
  • The Dallas-based airline launched a referral bonus program that will run through Nov. 20.
  • Staffing shortages in the airline industry this summer have led to hourslong hold times and exacerbated flight disruptions.

Southwest Airlines launched this week new hiring referral bonuses for staff as the carrier struggles to hire new workers to keep up with a rebound in travel demand.

"Southwest is experiencing a sharp decline in qualified applicants due to low labor force participation and competition for available talent," Southwest vice president and chief people officer Julie Weber wrote in a Tuesday note to staff, which was reviewed by CNBC.

Southwest staff can receive 20,000 "SWAG Points" — 10,000 on their referral's first day of work and 10,000 after that person completes six months with the airline. Those points on Southwest's internal platform have a taxable value of 1.5 cents each, a company document says, giving the points a value of about $300. Southwest's points can be redeemed for frequent flyer miles, gift cards or concert tickets.

The points cannot be redeemed for cash, Southwest said. Five employees' referrals will also be selected each week for 5,000 points for the referring staff member, Weber wrote.

Southwest and other carriers spent much of the pandemic urging workers to take early retirement packages or unpaid or partially paid time off. Now, they are scrambling to hire or retrain staff to cater to the rebound in travel demand that materialized faster than many airline executives expected.

Staffing shortages in the airline industry this summer have led to hourslong hold times for customer service lines and exacerbated flight disruptions from issues such as bad weather. Flight crews at American Airlines and Southwest have complained about a lack of available hotels or food options while they are on duty.

In June, Southwest raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Southwest didn't say how many employees it hopes to hire. The airline said earlier this year it needs more flight attendants and pilots, though job postings also include ramp and customer service agents among others. The incentive program runs through Nov. 20.

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