Southwest Airlines Asking Flight Attendants to Volunteer to Push Wheelchairs

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It’s no doubt going to be a busy holiday season. Southwest Airlines is asking employees to volunteer at many of its airports to help handle the travel surge occurring this month for the holidays.

Specifically, Southwest Airlines has asked several employee groups including flight attendants to volunteer to work with their ground operation teams and push wheelchairs. Employees are not forced to sign-up to volunteer and will not receive any additional compensation for doing so.

The airline is asking employees to volunteer for eight-hour shifts to help their ground operations teams.

a blue airplane on a runway

Per a Southwest Arlines memo, here are the details:

Later this month, Ground Ops is looking for Employees to volunteer at BWI, DCA, ATL, MCO, MDW, DAL, PHX, OAK, SMF, STL, and LGA to assist Customers in the lobby with general questions and wayfinding and to help push wheelchairs at the airport from Monday, December 20, 2021 – Monday, January 3, 2022.

Southwest Airlines provided the following information: 

On background only, the communication that was reported upon is a targeted invitation sent to certain (mostly) headquarters-based teams inviting them to support our Ground Operations colleagues during the peak Christmas and New Year’s holiday travel days by assisting Customers in the lobby areas at a few of our larger Stations (answering general questions, assisting with wayfinding, etc.).

The invitation to volunteer in select airports during peak seasons is not uncommon at Southwest — in fact, a similar invitation went out to some headquarters-based employees for the peak, Thanksgiving period a few weeks ago. Providing additional support in airports during the holidays is simply one more way we deliver Southwest Hospitality to each other, and our Customers, during certain peak travel periods.

Again, this would be an unpaid volunteer opportunity for flight attendants to do over the holidays. Keep in mind Southwest Airlines is incentivizing employees to work this holiday period with additional pay already.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen airlines ask employees to volunteer their time to work in other departments. Earlier this year both Delta Air Lines and American Airlines asked employees to volunteer to support their busy ground operations.

What are your thoughts on Southwest Airlines asking employees to volunteer to work in the airports this holiday season? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or suggestions expressed on this site are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed.

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  1. If it’s work worth doing, it’s labor worth paying, too.
    What happens if one of the “volunteers” get injured while doing this?

  2. Crew volunteering are setting themselves up for injury or liability problems. Who pays pax if they are injured?

  3. It’s not just simply ‘pushing wheelchairs’. This is assisting elderly, sick, physically challenged, injured and frail people who need to be moved in and out of the wheelchair with great care and consideration.

  4. We often travel with our disabled wheelchair bound adult daughter. I do all of the pushing, lifting, shuffling to her seat, and packing up of the wheelcahir.

    I am fortunate to be heathy and strong enough to do that – and she is fortuante that she travels wth me. And, FWIW, I am the furst to pop out of my seat to help anyone who needs assistance to stow their bag or handle something on the plane. (not just beacsue they want assitance, because they need asistance)

    So I can say first hand that there is a great need for assistance. But I can also say that it is hard work, requires some skills, is frought with risk and danger of injury to the person or the helper (you have no idea what someone’s disabillities or needs truely are).

    It’s not that FA’s are not up to the task, but the liability (and 8 hours) is too much to ask. If they want to serve, great, but no peer pressure should be applied and SWA needs to provide them a liabilty release. If they want tips, then sign up for employment with the airport’s disability assistance team – the one’s who should be provide alll of this service.

    I “luv” SWA and their attitude .. but this crosses the line. Next they will need some volunteer help to load the “extra” holiday bags into the plane’s belly. How about asking corporate staff and ground ops management to lead the volunteer brigade?

  5. SWA missed the point. It is so much more than pushing a wheelchair. There could be stops for the bathroom, water etc. What if they become ill? SWA think the liability portion of this through more clearly. There are those who do not know the appropriate way to enter and exit an elevator with a wheelchair– I see it a lot. Pay for four hour shifts and you will be glad you did.

  6. I find it ironic that they are asking the employees to “volunteer” time to assist persons needing extra assistance in the airports that are flying with SWA. They have service providers in the airport that they contract out to do such services, the number of bodies available to assist at one time varies.

    I don’t recall being asked to volunteer to work for the airlines when I check myself in at the ticket counter, tag my own bags, place my own bags on the conveyor belt for the “security” to push them to the back for loading on the plane. I thought that was in the job description of the ticket agents that are standing around most of the time when I enter the airport.

    The notion of “volunteering” to work for the employees is ridiculous to me when we are paying more for tickets to fly and there are profits that are definitely being made all across the industry. As one person stated, how about the CEO’s, Leadership Team, and those in the Corporate Headquarters “volunteer” and come out of their offices and do some bonding with the people whose wallets are keeping their positions alive and well. If they actually go into the airports themselves, they will see how much work each person is doing (employees and customers alike). Asking someone who is not making a ton of money to do something that is either in or not a part of their job description for no pay while they sit back and make $$$$$ salaries is a slap in the face. They need to rethink this call for “voluntary” service and count the costs that could ensue: Workmans comp, lawsuits for injuries to the client, etc.

  7. As someone who travels quite frequently I have observed the significant growth of wheelchair bound folks at the boarding gates. While I do not wish to sound “uncaring,” I have closely observed this phenomenon and despite the demographics I feel that more than a few seniors have realized that they can avoid the walk and the EARLY BOARDING FEES by requesting a wheelchair. So, it’s not necessarily necessity and hands slowed things down considerably.

  8. Dean Suhr has given SWA the answer to their question.
    Just to double down about SWA employees positive attitude: make sure Mr.Suhr email becomes company policy but only when the emergency is perfectly well defined.

    Thank you.

  9. Kudo’s to Southwest. For one week at Christmas it’s a gift to those who may be seeing their families for the last time? Have no doubt that the Southwest type of employee will respond and be self- rewarded other ways than financially.

  10. I’m afraid this will fall on deaf ears, but I applaud SWA, and their efforts to continue with efforts to help, assist, go beyond. The comments here are mostly about getting extra money but they will be the ones to be unwilling to pay any more in their fares. SWA is the only major that allows me to have free bags, and United and American are always adding charges or reducing service. As the article mentions, the employees are already receiving an added incentive for the holiday stress, and they are not requiring anyone to do anything. A liability waiver for the employees is already provided.

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