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Southwest Airlines customer support goes fully distant, reservations centers close

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A traveler walks past a Southwest Airlines airplane because it taxies from a gate at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on October 11, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Kevin Dietsch | Getty Images

Southwest Airlines’ customer support agents will soon work 100% remotely because the carrier moves to shut its reservations centers.

“Southwest Airlines just announced they’re closing all of the Reservation Centers and transitioning to 100% distant work,” said the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Staff, the labor union representing the airline’s customer support agents, in a note to members dated Wednesday.

The shift is effective Sept. 1, Southwest said, though the airline added that the majority reservations agents have been working remotely throughout the pandemic. It has greater than 3,200 customer support and reservations agents based in Albuquerque, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Oklahoma City, Phoenix and at Southwest headquarters in Dallas.

The agents’ most important job is to assist travelers with reservations and trip changes. The physical locations where agents were based will now be open to other departments for repurposing, an organization spokesperson said.

The union said in its note that Southwest made the choice without union input. The organization didn’t immediately return a request for comment Thursday.

The closures make Southwest the newest company to weigh whether in-office work is obligatory, effective and attractive for employees in a post-pandemic culture. Southwest and other airlines are scrambling to rent latest staff as travel demand roars back after a two-year slump.

“Evolving to a totally distant workforce brings increased flexibility, each in attracting and hiring latest Employees from across the country, and in scheduling current Employees who’ve worked at record efficiency in a distant work environment,” Southwest said in a press release.

Lots of Southwest’s staff who’re based at its corporate headquarters have a hybrid model “based on job function and business needs,” in response to the spokesperson.

Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines still staff reservations centers. A Delta spokesman said the airline has no plans to vary.

Most of Alaska Airlines reservation agents work remotely, a spokeswoman said, and JetBlue Airways’ customer support agents have worked from home throughout the airline’s greater than 22 years of flying.

Spokespeople for United and American didn’t immediately comment on whether or not they plan to make an analogous change to its Southwest rival.

Some airlines are holding on to and even expanding in job areas that can’t be done remotely, like pilot training. United Airlines, for instance, recently announced a $100 million expansion of its pilot training center in Denver.

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