Southwest Airlines announced that it will close its reservations centers to go fully remote, effective Sept. 1 of this year.
The airline said that most reservation agents and customer service were already working remotely throughout the pandemic.
More than 3,200 customer service employees based in Albuquerque, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Oklahoma City, and Phoenix and at Southwest headquarters in Dallas will be relocated to work remotely. Those locations will be repurposed to other departments for their use.
“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,” said Southwest in a statement to CNBC.
“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, which represents the Southwest’s customer service agents, in a note to its members on June 8.
The airline labor union accused Southwest of making the decision unilaterally without employee input.
Southwest said in a press release May 11 that it would invest $2 billion to “transform the customer experience.” That includes using digital technology to simplify check-in services for its passengers.
The airline believes the improved digital self-service will reduce the wait at its airport terminals and will free airline staff for “specialized hospitality and customer service.”
Delta, United, and American Airlines still staff reservations centers and appear to have no intention to change their operations.
Reservation agents at other discount airlines, such as Alaska Airlines and JetBlue, also work remotely. JetBlue’s customer service agents have worked from home since the airline’s founding.
The staff at Southwest’s corporate headquarters already operates on a hybrid home and office model, which the company said is “based on job function and business needs.”
Many companies have adapted their work business models since the pandemic, experimenting with remote models instead of in-office work.
As the pandemic recedes and travel picks up again, the airline industry is struggling to hire new pilots and staff.