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Southwest lost thousands of employees in 2020, while American lost tens of thousands, filings show

The sheer volume of employee losses for the two North Texas carriers, disclosed recently in regulatory filings, illustrate how terrible 2020 was for airlines.
Credit: Jake Dean / Dallas Business Journal
American, shown here, and Southwest each disclosed the employee losses in regulatory filings this month.

DALLAS — American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, two of the largest companies in North Texas, together lost about 35,300 employees last year as the air travel industry grappled with its worst-ever crisis.

American and Southwest each disclosed the employee losses in regulatory filings this month. A combination of voluntary employee separations and retirements contributed to the workforce reductions, spokespeople from both companies said. American also restructured its management team in Fort Worth last year, and that came with a 30 percent headcount reduction for those particular functions.

Last year's losses could have been even worse.

Airlines avoided mass layoffs after the federal government provided financial aid to the industry as part of multiple coronavirus relief packages. In exchange for taking Payroll Support Program funds, the airlines agreed not to conduct furloughs or layoffs.

American, which has roughly double the number of employees as Dallas-based Southwest, accounted for the bulk of employee losses between the two carriers. But even as a percentage, American's losses were far more substantial.

American relies on lucrative overseas travel, a sector which experts project will be among the last to fully recover. Almost all of Southwest's network, on the other hand, is concentrated in the U.S.

Southwest also came into the pandemic on a stronger financial footing than American.

According to regulatory filings, American's headcount went from 133,700 at the end of 2019 to 102,700 at the end of last year, for a total loss of 31,000 employees. The loss marks a 23 percent reduction.

During the same time period, Southwest's headcount went from 60,800 down to 56,500, for a loss of 4,300 employees. That represents a 7 percent reduction.

Locally, the two corporate giants also employ many frontline employees, as American accounts for more than 80 percent of the traffic at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport and Southwest flies more than 90 percent of the traffic at Dallas Love Field.

Southwest still maintains an employee base of around 11,000 in North Texas, a spokesperson said, similar to pre-pandemic levels. American employed about 33,000 North Texans heading into the pandemic and today employs fewer people locally, a spokesperson said, declining to provide a specific number.

As far as potential 2021 employee cuts, American recently told employees 13,000 could be furloughed this spring if more federal financial aid is not given to the industry. Up to 2,700 employees could be affected in DFW. Southwest said it doesn't plan on furloughs or layoffs through 2021.

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