Southwest, one of only two major domestic airlines keeping middle seats empty (the other is Delta), has extended its middle seat open policy through November to give consumers more confidence when flying.
However, the empty middle seat will go away on December 1, 2020.
Southwest flyers also now also have to sign a Customer Health Declaration, agreeing to wear a mask through the airport and on the flight and acknowledging they are free of virus symptoms.
They’re also strongly enforcing the requirement that flyers must wear masks aside from when eating or drinking. They will provide masks to customers who don’t have them.
Here’s a look at the additional Southwest cleaning and physical distancing procedures now in place.
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Southwest Cleaning, Physical Distancing Procedures
Here’s what the airline is doing to help ensure healthy and safety…
1. Limited Passengers on Flights
Southwest has limited the number of passengers on each flight, and in this video they have said flights will be limited to 2/3 of full capacity. I flew in August on a flight from Atlanta to Indianapolis that was entirely sold except for the middle seat, while the flight I took from Indy to Atlanta was about 60% full.
2. Middle Seat Occupancy Unnecessary Except for Traveling Parties
While Southwest says they won’t prevent passengers from sitting in the middle seat, the limited number on board will not necessitate this seat being filled. Those who are traveling together and want to sit together can. Southwest will not direct you where to sit. This will continue through November 30.
Beginning December 1, Southwest will begin filling the middle seat if there are enough flyers, though they are offering the option of a full refund if you booked a flight after that date and do not want to fly without the middle seat empty. Contact Southwest if you’d like a refund.
3. First and Last 2 to 3 Rows Blocked
Southwest has said they will block the first two to three and last two to three rows of the aircraft, so no one can sit there. All other seats will be open.
4. Boarding in Groups of 10
Boarding now takes place in groups of 10 with passengers appropriately physically distanced and only on one side of the boarding poles.
Airport signage and floor markers now encourage distancing.
Family boarding has not changed.
5. Plexiglass at All Counters
Southwest has installed Plexiglass at ticketing and boarding counters, as well as in luggage offices.
6. Limited Food or Drink Service on Board
While for a time they stopped all food and drink service, they have now returned limited food and drink service with cans of water with straws and snack mix (it’s yummy!) available on flights greater than 250 miles. They also have some fun new “plane”-shaped graham crackers that taste just like Teddy Grahams.
Additionally, the expiration of free alcoholic drink coupons has been extended through December 31, 2020. More details…
7. Face Mask Required
Southwest requires customers to wear a face covering or face mask both on the plane and in the airport and will deny you boarding if you don’t comply. They advise that you bring your own, but will provide one if you forget.
Additionally, Southwest employees who work with customers will wear masks.
Acceptable face coverings:
- Must adhere to current CDC guidelines (ie no holes in the mask)
- Must be secured and fit snugly against your face
- Must cover your mouth AND nose
- Must be secured under you chin
Unacceptable face covering might include:
- Coverings with holes (no crocheted or similar masks)
- Coverings with exhaust valves
- Coverings made of mesh or lace
- Coverings not secured under the chin – bandanas and face shields
- Face shields must be worn in addition to an acceptable face covering (see above)
- Neck gaiters are only acceptable if worn over mouth, nose and secured under the chin
8. Sanitizing Wipes Available on Board
The airline will make sanitizing wipes, should you want to additionally wipe down your seat or tray table, on board. We brought our own with us and wiped down everything around us. The flight attendants will come by at the start of the flight and collect all dirty wipes.
9. New Aircraft Cleaning Procedures
New procedures include:
- Routine application of an electrostatic disinfectant and anti-microbial spray on every surface that kills viruses on contact
- Employees use Sani-Cide EX3, a broad-spectrum disinfectant, to clean commonly-used areas like tray tables, window shades, bathrooms, seat belts, etc. before every flight
- Deep clean of every plane nightly for six to seven hours with a four- to six-person crew
Aircraft already have High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, which remove 99.97% of airborne particles similar to hospitals.
They are also cleaning gate areas, ticket counters and baggage claim areas multiple times daily.
Passenger Recommendations From Southwest
Southwest also advises those who will be traveling with them to do the following:
- Download a mobile boarding pass via the Southwest app to further reduce interactions and contact
- Bring your own hand sanitizer and mask
- Arrive to the airport earlier to allow time for new check-in, boarding and security procedures
- Maintain physical distancing
- Eat before you travel (I’d also advise getting a big bottle of water to take with you on the plane since there is no drink service!)
- Don’t travel if you are sick or have symptoms of the virus; you can always change a Southwest flight at no cost or cancel it, as well
Read the full text of Southwest’s changes and additions HERE.
What do you think of the procedures? Will it help you feel more comfortable flying?