WASHINGTON – While airlines nationwide race to cut jobs to avoid financial ruin, Southwest Airlines is looking to hire at least 100 new workers at Baltimore/Washington International Airport by the end of this year.
The process will start at a job fair Saturday, where Southwest officials will welcome any applicants for customer service and ramp agent jobs. But they are particularly hoping to pick up some of the hundreds of people who have lost jobs at BWI as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks.
“We’re looking for an attitude, and if they happen to have experience, that certainly gives them an edge,” said Melanie Jones, a spokeswoman for Southwest.
Southwest is not the only domestic airline at BWI to hire since the attacks, but it is doing the most hiring. America West Airlines and TWA added 14 and 15 employees respectively, and Northwest Airlines called back all of its laid-off employees. American Airlines neither hired nor laid off any employees.
But those are the exceptions.
By December, US Airways plans to put about 700 BWI employees on furlough or voluntary leave, said spokesman Rick Weintraub. United Air Lines has laid off nine employees since the attacks, while Continental Airlines lost two.
Airlines are not the only companies suffering. LSG Sky Chefs in Linthicum, which prepares flight meals, laid off 75 employees, said Marco K. Merrick, a spokesman for Employment and Training at the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
Delta Air Lines could not say how many employees it might lay off at BWI, but it expects to cut 13,000 of its 80,000 jobs worldwide by the end of the year.
Jones attributes Southwest’s ability to hire now to a “unique combination” of operation choices.
“One of our management philosophies at Southwest is when times are good, we still operate as if times are tight,” Jones said.
The company has never had a layoff in its 30-year history. It was also able to avoid massive cutbacks in flights after the Sept. 11 attacks, unlike other airlines.
The company has looked to other ways to reduce spending. Advertising for the job fair was done through banners at BWI and via word-of-mouth, rather than through paid advertisements.
The ramp agents Southwest is looking to hire are the people who help load the plane. Applicants must be able to lift up to 70 pounds repetitively and pay starts at $8.75 an hour. Customer service representatives must also be able to lift 70 pounds, as well as possess typing skills. Their pay starts at $9.09.
Southwest has not estimated the number of applicants who might show up Saturday. But at least one union is encouraging its laid-off members to apply.
“The prospect of a job is always better than the alternative of unemployment,” said Joe Tiberi, a spokesman for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. He said taking a job at Southwest would not affect workers’ rights to return to their old jobs if a callback is held.
Jones said she hopes that many who lost their jobs at other airlines will turn to Southwest for more stable work.
“We’re looking for people who want to turn this into a career as opposed to just having this as a job,” she said.
The job fair runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Embassy Suites BWI in Linthicum.