Southwest Airlines has reverted to its pre-pandemic boarding policy, a company spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday. Like many airlines, Southwest has been boarding passengers in smaller groups to aid social distancing but the airline said it would now revert to its traditional boarding policy to meet the expectations of passengers who are only now returning to flying.
“The majority of our customers are familiar with Southwest’s standard boarding style and have an expectation for the normal boarding process as they return to travel,” a Southwest spokesperson noted.
Southwest doesn’t assign seats and normally lets passengers board in groups of 30 at a time. That number was cut to groups of just 10 passengers last March when the term ‘social distancing’ first entered our lexicon. Going forward, Southwest will revert back to allowing 30 passengers to board at a time.
The airline, which had blocked middle seats for much of last year to allow for inflight social distancing, lifted all passenger capacity caps on December 1, 2020. At the time, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said that the decision to start filling every available seat had been based on new scientific studies.
“The risk of breathing COVID-19 particles on an airplane is virtually non-existent, with the combination of air filtration and face covering requirements,” Kelly noted. “The combined studies, research, and counsel we have received, thus far, give us confidence in our approach and timing of this change to the Southwest Promise.”
Earlier this month, jetBlue said it would abandon back-to-front boarding for traditional group boarding. The airline also cited a federal mask mandate and HEPA air filtration as major factors in rolling back its socially distanced boarding policy. JetBlue has also lifted all passenger capacity caps on its flights.
United and Delta Air Lines continue to implement back-to-front pandemic boarding policies. American Airlines never changed its normal boarding procedure.
Delta is now the only airline in the United States continuing to block middle seats and has promised to restrict capacity through to April 30 at the earliest.
Southwest said it would continue to remind passengers to observe social distancing and that floor markers remained in place at its airports across the United States.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.
I disagree that ‘normal’ will ever return, and I disagree that the panic is over.
Some aspects of this panic will remain forever.
All that’s left is for discrimination against anyone without a CDC vaccination card and for the sheeple to be convinced that vaccinated people cannot spread the virus. They can most definitely, of course, but that’s not the narrative.
I have been on 8 flights on Southwest during the past three months through a variety of destinations, and the boarding/disembarkation process has been ludicrous on almost all of them. In some locations they paid no attention to the “board groups of 10 policy” and in all of them passengers were lined up without a separation in the jetway while boarding, and in the plane aisles after landing when the usual massive stampede takes place to get bags from the overhead bins and exit the plane. Flight attendants were diligent, however, about reminding passengers to wear their masks, and dealing with passengers who attempted to switch to noncompliant masks or to remove their masks and cover up with coats/blankets to evade the regulations. Of the 8 flights, 6 of them were sold out, with no vacant seats. In a number of the airports, CDC regulations were not being enforced. I saw people without masks, wearing noncompliant masks, wearing masks that did not cover their noses, and sitting/standing much closer than 6 feet apart. In addition, in a number of locations, passengers were being urged to use the self check kiosks to get boarding passes and baggage checks, but there was no sanitization of the keypads between customers. Southwest can modify their boarding process all that they want, in an effort to “normalize ” the flight experience, but until some of the systemic issues are dealt with, any statements that it is safe to fly are largely fiction.