DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) — Officials with Southwest Airlines confirm that nearly one-third of the workforce has signed up to voluntarily take early retirement or long-term leaves of absence from the company.

During a regular company-wide teleconference Southwest CEO Gary Kelly explained that a deadline to signup for voluntary separation and extended time off programs – which has since been extended – had garnered a lot of interest.

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“In total, 16,895 Employees expressed an interest in these voluntary programs. That’s 28% of our workforce,” Kelly told staff. “Nearly 4,400 Employees elected the VSP, and we do expect to grant all of those requests.”

Of that total, some 24% of Southwest pilots and 33% of flight attendants have reportedly agreed to leave the company or take a leave of absence.

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During the meeting Kelly also said that some 12,500 employees had expressed interest in the Extended Emergency Time Off option, and that the company would evaluate how many of those applications would be accepted.

“Overall, I’m very pleased with the response to these programs,” Kelly told the Southwest team. “I’m incredibly grateful to those of you who answered the call. I know there are stories behind every one of those 16,895 decisions.”

Just one week earlier Kelly had warned that passenger ticket sales would have to triple by year-end to thwart the need to let employees go.

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In the midst of a downturn in airline travel since the novel coronavirus outbreak, Southwest is trying to avoid firing or laying off workers — a move that would have been the first in its 49-year history.