Southwest Airlines customer service goes fully remote, reservations centers close

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A traveler walks past a Southwest Airlines airplane as 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 service agents will soon work 100% remotely as the carrier moves to close its reservations centers.

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

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

The agents’ main job is to help travelers with reservations and trip changes. The physical locations where agents were based will now be open to other departments for repurposing, a company spokesperson said.

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

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

“Evolving to a fully remote workforce brings increased flexibility, both in attracting and hiring new Employees from across the country, and in scheduling current Employees who have worked at record efficiency in a remote work environment,” Southwest said in a statement.

Many of Southwest’s staff who are based at its corporate headquarters have a hybrid model “based on job function and business needs,” according 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 change.

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

Spokespeople for United and American didn’t immediately comment on whether they plan to make a similar change to its Southwest rival.

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

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