Ryan Green, SVP & Chief Marketing Officer of Southwest Airlines sent an email message to all Southwest Rapid Rewards members to ensure them the airline continues to have their safety in mind.
Rapid Rewards is the Southwest loyalty reward program where participating travelers can “earn points for every dollar spent on Southwest flights and with the airline’s hotel, car rental and retail partners”, according to Southwest website.
Green reaffirmed in his message from September 18 that the airline will continue to keep the middle seat open through November 30 to comply with social distancing. The middle seat keeps you at a distance if you sit on the same row with somebody else.
“Of course, if you are traveling with your family or others, you can still sit together. Otherwise, middle seats will be open”, says the message. However, other major US airlines such as Delta, American, and United have already removed the restriction on the middle seat.
The face covering requirements also continue to be strictly enforced not only on-board but throughout the entire traveling experience. “While checking in, boarding, while inflight, deplaning, and retrieving your bags at baggage claim.” as Green message explains you have to wear a mask. In fact, as soon as you set foot at any US airport you have to prepare to put on your mask.
Airlines now proudly advertise their cleaning procedures to gain the confidence of travelers. Southwest is not lagging behind. “A sophisticated air recirculation system introduces fresh, outdoor air into the cabin every second while inflight, and results in a complete exchange of cabin air every two to three minutes.”, states the message. Similarly, to technology found in hospitals and operating rooms, airlines including Southwest now brag about how HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air filter) filters remove more then 99% of airborne particles.
On top of the air filters, Southwest claims it applies “Both an electrostatic disinfectant and an anti-microbial spray” that are applied on surfaces throughout the aircraft “killing viruses on contact and forming an anti-microbial coating or shield for 30 days.”
It sounds pretty convincing, isn’t it? I still remember taking a short, one hour flight on Southwest last year from San Francisco Intl airport to Burbank, CA and upon boarding finding in the cabin and around my seat trash, discarded food packaging, and crumbs on the floor. So amidst the pandemic we see at least one positive aspect affecting the airlines industry – the enhanced cleaning.
“We deep clean each aircraft, nose to tail, for 6-7 hours every night. Ticket counters, gates, and baggage claim areas are cleaned multiple times a day.”, Green assured the airline’s travelers in his email.
The last part of message titled “No change or cancel fees – Ever” stated:
“We understand the importance of flexibility. For 49 years and counting, we’ve never charged a fee just to change your flight. This benefit and value applies to every flight and every type of fare purchased–even our lowest fares. We offer you the ability to keep and reuse your travel funds later if you choose not to travel, and give you a credit of the fare difference if you find a lower fare on Southwest. No questions asked. “
I am happy that Southwest and other airlines, in an effort to boost its travelers’ confidence try every trick in the book. Rebooking fees and fees in general are waved across the board.
However, I remember how I used to travel with Southwest a lot on my business trips. On several occasions when I showed up early for my Southwest flight back the agent would ask me to pay a fee to change my flight in order to board to an earlier flight. Thus, “For 49 years and counting, we’ve never charged a fee just to change your flight” I would argue is rather bold statement, at least for what my experience is worth.
It is certain, though, the pandemic has brought pretty significant changes to the airline industry. Nowadays we definitely fly in cleaner planes that are thoroughly cleaned at least once a day. The air we breath on-broad is germs free by surgical room standards. And the overall cleanliness is miles away from what it used to be before the pandemic hit the industry. My hope is that the standards we’ve developed thus far will remain in the future when the threat of the Covid-19 diminish.