U.S. airlines plan to hire tens of thousands of new employees to fill the gaps created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The airlines had avoided mass layoffs in exchange for billions of dollars in US government grants and loans.

But airlines like United Airlines (UAL), American Airlines (AAL), Delta Air Lines DAL), and Southwest Airlines (LUV) have all cut their workforce through early retirement and buyout programs that under-staffed them as the industry rebounded last spring started .

The U.S. Department of Labor announced that the number of airline employees fell from 742,346 in August 2019 to 718,979 in August this year.

“We hire a lot of people and bring them in and prepare them for vacation to make sure our customers get where they need to go,” Southwest Airlines’ Elizabeth Bryant told Yahoo Finance Live.

Bryant is vice president of Southwest University, the airline’s new training center for employees. “Everyone who works on the aircraft or works with our customers comes for technical training, the how-to. And then we offer leadership and employee development training, ”she said.

Southwest plans to hire 5,300 people by the end of this year and said it was more than halfway through the target. This includes flight attendants, pilots, pilot trainers, reservations and email customer support specialists, and engineers and maintenance staff. The airline plans to hire another 8,000 next year.

The story goes on

Pressure to raise wages

Southwest raised its minimum wage to $ 15 in June, which affects about 7,000 of its 54,000 employees. At Delta, CEO Ed Bastian told investors on a conference call on the third quarter results, “We haven’t released that number yet, but we will certainly be hiring pilots, we will be hiring flight attendants and mechanics.” Those would probably be the three main areas we are doing will be discontinued next year. “

American Airlines told investors it will have enough staff for the holidays, but CFO Derek Kerr responded to a question about future hiring: “We’ll know more once we finalize our 2022 budget, but we’re seeing pressure on them.” Fuel prices. Hiring and training for both new hires and existing crews as we ramp up our operations. “

And at United, President Brett Hart said, “We hired nearly 1,000 pilots, more than we hired in all of 2019, and welcomed three new classes of flight attendants.”

Job links for airlines:

The flight attendants and pilots at Southwest are covered by union-negotiated contracts. The airline doesn’t share salary data, but the airlinepilotcentral.com website provides a glimpse into all of the airlines and the money a pilot can make.

At Southwest, a new pilot who reaches the rank of first officer has a base salary of approximately $ 106,000 annually. Casey Murray, President of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA), points out that the actual annual wage is much higher, adding, “I always thought it was the airline’s job to really sell itself for work here I paid more than for the money, it’s Southwest Airlines, “he said.

The carrier has a long history of good employee relationships. But Murray has said over the past few years, “I think our people kind of got lost,” and he’s counting on new CEO Bob Jordan Southwest to fly back.

“You can teach the technical skills. We’re really trying to hire people who have a desire to serve. And that’s what makes us unique,” Jordan told Yahoo Finance.

“I think we are certainly in the middle of a huge talent shortage,” said Bryant of Southwest University. She added that the airline is looking for “really great people and we are hiring those who can help us take care of our customers and employees and preserve our culture, the special culture that it is.”

Adam Shapiro is a co-host of Yahoo Finance Live. Follow him on Twitter @Ajshaps

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