Southwest sees $1 billion in cost savings next year, avoids layoffs for now

FILE PHOTO: A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft is pictured in front of United Airlines planes, including Boeing 737 MAX 9 models, at William P. Hobby Airport in Houston, Texas, U.S., March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Southwest Airlines LUV.N expects to save more than $1 billion in 2021 thanks to the high number of employees taking early retirement or extended time off as the industry grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, an executive told investors on Thursday.

The estimated savings could fluctuate if the airline brings back employees sooner than expected to meet any increases in travel demand. But if demand continues to stall, it may have to consider furloughs or layoffs that, unlike some rivals, Southwest intends to avoid this year.

Reporting by Tracy Rucinski and Sanjana Shivdas; Editing by Steve Orlofsky