Last Friday Southwest Airlines announced some changes to their boarding process as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unlike other airlines, Southwest Airlines has an open seating policy. Instead of seat assignments, Southwest assigns boarding groups (A, B, or C) and boarding positions (1-60) which determine the order in which passengers are allowed to board. Upon boarding the plane, passengers can choose any open seat. (If you have not flown Southwest in the past, see this post for a detailed guide to the Southwest boarding process works and how to get a good seat.)
During the Southwest boarding process, passengers are instructed to line up at the gate before boarding in order based on their boarding group and position.
The Southwest boarding process was definitely not conducive to physical distancing. In the past when flights were full, passengers would have to line up at the gate close together. For a full flight there could be up to 30 people lined up on one side of the poles at the gate and 30 people on the other side.
New Changes to the Southwest Airlines Boarding Process
In response to COVID-19, Southwest has made some modifications to its boarding process to promote physical-distancing. The changes are as follows:
• Passengers will be required to wear a mask or a face covering in the airport and on the plane beginning May 11. (If you do not bring a mask or a face covering, Southwest will provide you with one).
• Southwest is now boarding in groups of 10 and only on one side of their boarding poles to help passengers spread out.
• Starting in early May, Southwest will begin posting airport signage and floor markers that encourage physical-distancing in the gate areas.
• Family boarding is not changing, but Southwest will encourage families to respect the personal space of others during boarding.
• Southwest will not be blocking middle seats but they will be limiting the number of people onboard each flight to provide customers more personal space to spread out (currently through June).
• The first 2-3 and last 2-3 rows will be blocked and Southwest will not direct passengers where to sit.
In addition to the changes above related to the boarding process, Southwest Airlines has also made other changes (such as discontinuing inflight beverage and snack service) and has enhanced cleaning and disinfecting of planes, gate areas, etc.
The full details on Southwest’s modified boarding process, enhanced cleaning and physical-distancing measures can be found on their website at https://www.southwest.com/promise/ and they have also created a short 3 minute video:
We don’t have plans to fly in the next couple of months, but it is good to know that Southwest has made changes to its boarding process to make flying safer.