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Southwest, American Air Drop Famed Halloween Parties on Virus

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 10/20/2020 Mary Schlangenstein

(Bloomberg) -- Southwest Airlines Co. and American Airlines Group Inc. have scrapped their annual staff Halloween parties because of the coronavirus pandemic, suspending revered traditions amid an unprecedented industry slump.

“You all know Halloween celebrations will look differently this year,” Southwest Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly said in his weekly message to employees.

“Please remember to wear your masks while having fun with one another and our customers,” Kelly said in the Monday message. This is the first time Southwest has canceled its parties since 2001, following the terrorism attacks on the U.S.

The coronavirus crisis has gutted air travel, forcing carriers to take billions of dollars in government loans and $25 billion in payroll support, with thousands of job cuts under way. While U.S. air travel is recovering, it is about 35% of where it was a year ago.

Kelly in past years has joined other Southwest executives in costume, including dressing as Frankenstein, Snow White, movie pirate Jack Sparrow and Gene Simmons from the rock band Kiss. This year, he’ll don masks throughout the week instead.

There won’t be any of the skits, family activities, contests and parties at the airline’s Dallas headquarters, said spokesman Chris Mainz. The carrier decided months ago to cancel nonessential in-person events this year “out of an abundance of caution” because of the pandemic, he said.

Southwest workers began dressing up for Halloween in the 1970s, and President Emeritus Colleen Barrett added skits and other events in the early 1980s.

At American, this will be the first Halloween without a party and trick-or-treating by employees’ children since the carrier acquired US Airways in 2013.

Chief Executive Officer Doug Parker -- whose birthday is on Halloween -- imported the annual celebration from the smaller carrier, which had inherited it from merger partner America West. In the past, he’s joined other American executives in costume, including dressing as musicians Keith Richards, Billy Ray Cyrus and Boy George.

Employees at the carrier’s Fort Worth, Texas, headquarters can dress up for the day, as can airport customer-service and gate agents, said spokesman Matt Miller.

The cancellation “is primarily because of the fact that we have 19,000 people on furlough -- not a very celebratory time,” he said.

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