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Ten thousand apply for 750 Southwest Airlines jobs

Southwest Airlines passenger planes are seen at Chicago's Midway Airport in Illnois May 31, 2012.

Southwest Airlines has been doing better than a lot of its rivals. But the discount carrier hasn’t hired new flight attendants from outside the company since February 2011. Last week, it announced 750 new positions, and, says company spokesman Dan Landson, “we received 10,000 resumes that were emailed to us within two hours and five minutes.”

At which point, Landson says, Southwest closed the search.

Southwest is expanding after its merger with AirTran, with more international flights planned, says Landson. And it will be flying bigger planes—it has ordered 55 additional Boeing 737-800 jets—which carry more passengers. Regulations require more flight attendants to staff those flights.

Flight attendants can make close to $25/hour for time flying (they are paid from the time the plane leaves the gate, until the time it arrives at the gate, but not for time getting through security or boarding). Free travel (including for some family members) and flexible hours are other perks of the job.

And these jobs have been scarce—total employment at the nation’s airlines has been falling over the past year, even as employment in many other industries has been gradually increasing. Airline employment fell by 0.8 percent in October 2013 compared to October 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics It was the smallest decline in 13 months.

But with the economy getting better, University of Portland transportation expert Richard Gritta expects airline employment to increase in 2014. He says mega-mergers have left fewer airlines flying fewer, more lucrative routes. And they’re packing their planes 85-percent-or-more full to make the flights more profitable.

“The consolidations have reduced competition, the airlines have cut capacity, and their profits are up,” says Gritta. “The economy is continuing to grow, allowing them to begin to expand very gradually.”

Seth Kaplan at Airline Weekly also expects hiring to pick up—especially at discount carriers.

But not so much for jobs on the ground.

“You don’t need quite as many employees to serve the same number of travelers anymore,” says Kaplan. “Every year you have more and more people using kiosks at the airport instead of having to talk to an agent. They print their boarding passes at home or get them on their mobile phones.”

Richard Gritta says changes in the industry have made the job of flight attendant more stressful.

“Now you’re flying with planes that are full to the limit,” says Gritta. “More people being crammed in, fighting over space for their luggage because they’re trying to avoid the checked bags fees--the pressure has ratcheted up, and your wages haven’t really done the same.”

That makes it not so much of a pleasure to fly—or work a flight—these days.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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