"It was the first time we did that in a while, and of course anytime we do it, it's like opening up the floodgates," Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly told employees in a weekly recorded message. "We knew it would be the same this time."
Employment at U.S. passenger airlines is showing signs of stabilizing, according to the Transportation Department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The industry's work force shrank by 0.8 percent to 381,178 in October, the last month for which data were available. That's the smallest decline in 13 months.
The deluge of applications in two hours and five minutes at Dallas-based Southwest also underscores the demand for work even as U.S. economic growth gathers pace. The U.S. jobless rate fell to a five-year low of 7 percent in November, while the economy expanded at a 4.1 percent pace in the third quarter, government data show.
In recent years, other airlines have also seen interest in flight attendant positions. Delta Air Lines got 22,000 resumes for 300 of the jobs in December 2012 and US Airways Group Inc., now a part of American Airlines Group Inc., attracted 14,000 applicants when it hired 420 attendants in 2010.
New hires at Southwest will earn about $24.39 an hour and work a minimum of 66 hours a month, said Dan Landson, a spokesman for the Dallas-based company. Hiring for the positions will be completed in the next year, he said.
Southwest needs to augment its staff after ordering bigger planes and expanding international routes, Landson said.
Southwest is awaiting delivery of 55 Boeing Co. 737-800s and already flies 44 of the jets, according to the planemaker's website. They are the largest aircraft in carrier's fleet, capable of seating as many as 175 passengers, requiring four flight attendants.
The shares have advanced 84 percent this year, compared with a gain of 28 percent for the Standard & Poor's 500 Index.
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