As Americans prepare to emerge from COVID-19-based restrictions, Southwest Airlines is recalling 209 pilots and more than 2,700 flight attendants to meet summer travel needs. The pilots and flight attendants had participated in the company’s Extended Time-Off Program, in which they accepted partial pay for a minimum of six months and retained certain benefits, travel privileges and healthcare coverage. The cockpit and cabin crew members will return to work on June 1. Of course, the pilots will need to complete all the necessary requalification and recurrent training before returning to the flight deck, according to Southwest.
As of December 2020, Southwest had 8,500 active pilots, down from 9,300 the year before. Of nearly 60,000 employees overall, the airline also has a total of approximately 16,000 flight attendants on the payroll. The 2,700-plus who are being recalled represent all those who participated in the Extended Time-Off Program.
Though still far from pre-pandemic levels, air travel has continued to increase over the past several months as the rate of vaccinations has increased dramatically. The Transportation Security Administration reports it has screened more than 1 million passengers daily since March 11, the most prolonged surge since COVID-19-related restrictions hobbled the airline industry last year. The agency further reported it screened 1.6 million passengers on April 2, the highest daily total since March 12, 2020.