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Southwest Airlines’ planes are less than 20% full because of COVID-19 and leaders say more cuts are coming
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Southwest Airlines’ planes are less than 20% full because of COVID-19 and leaders say more cuts are coming

Southwest Airlines leaders painted an increasingly bleak picture of the airline’s situation in messages to employees Monday, describing planes that are only 20% full, an upcoming voluntary leave program and a need for “billions of dollars of immediate liquidity within weeks.”

The messages from leaders, including CEO Gary Kelly, said the company would cut another 500 flights a day from schedules through April 14, bringing the total number of daily flights reduced since Friday to 1,500.

“As you know, we’ve already taken several actions at Southwest to preserve cash and protect jobs,” Kelly said in the video message. “We’ve frozen all hiring, we’ve made large-scale schedule changes and despite all these steps, we will still require billions of dollars of immediate liquidity within weeks.”

Kelly also disclosed that “some employees are diagnosed with the illness,” but he didn’t provide specifics on how many, where the infected workers are based geographically or what jobs they hold. The company later declined to provide further comment.

Southwest has more than 10,000 employees in Dallas, mostly at its headquarters at Love Field.

It’s been the last major airline to feel the pain of the COVID-19 pandemic as all of its flights are in North America. But since the beginning of March, Southwest has said it has seen a sudden drop in demand. It has gone to creditors seeking more money, cut routes and trimmed flying across its network.

“We find ourselves in the greatest challenge of our generation, a challenge of a magnitude not seen in many generations,” Kelly said in the video. “Dynamics surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic are changing day by day, if not hour by hour.”

Kelly is among the airline executives and industry leaders who signed a letter over the weekend asking Congress for a combined $29 billion in “payroll protection grants” that would prevent the companies from enacting widespread layoffs. Kelly said he has spent the last few weeks in Washington lobbying for aid…

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