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Southwest Changes Its Cleaning Protocol

While the world continues to struggle with the COVID-19 global pandemic, airlines have been focused on enhanced cleaning and sanitization processes as a way to reassure customers that it is safe to fly.  Southwest Airlines appears to be taking a slightly different path as it works to turnaround aircraft more quickly during the daily flight schedule.

The airline sent a memo to staff, which was obtained by USA Today, directing employees to no longer wipe down armrests and seatbelts between flights.  Instead, staff are to focus on high-touch areas such as tray tables and toilets.   The memo said, “These are the most important areas to clean between each flight as they are prone to contamination from Customer use and food/beverage consumption.”

A Southwest spokesperson said that the airline was providing sanitizing wipes to customers, upon request, so that customers could wipe down on-board surfaces of their choosing.  The company is still cleaning its aircraft nose to tail overnight and is performing monthly electrostatic cleaning that creates an anti-microbial coating on all surfaces that lasts for 30 days.  Southwest is also not filling middle seats to aid with physical distancing on its flights.

Reducing the cleaning protocol will enable Southwest to focus on turning its planes around as quickly as possible, a key metric when it comes to reducing costs. The longer a plane is on the ground, the fewer flights it can make and the less profitable it is.

Like all airlines, Southwest is dealing with massive revenue losses.  In its most recent earning report, revenue fell 83 percent compared to the same quarter in 2019, for overall losses of $915 million. These figures are in line with its peers at American Airlines (a revenue fall of 86 percent) and Delta Air Lines (an 87 percent fall in revenue).  Returning planes to a quick turnaround as flight volume increases is needed to reverse these losses and avoid the looming threat of layoffs.