Southwest Reduces Aircraft Cleaning Between Flights | One Mile at a Time

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Over the past few months we’ve seen airlines greatly improve their cleaning protocols. In my experience planes have been spotless unlike ever before. Well, at least one major US airline has reduced its aircraft cleaning protocols as of the beginning of the month.

Southwest reducing cleaning between flights

As of August 1, 2020, Southwest Airlines has adjusted its cleaning protocols between flights for the worse. Specifically, the airline is now only cleaning tray tables and lavatories between flights, rather than all surfaces.

As the airline describes this decision, Southwest’s flight schedule is “evolving,” and as a result the airline is returning to standard turn times, which reduces the time available to clean between flights. In other words, the airline had temporarily added extra time between flights to clean aircraft, and that buffer has now been eliminated.

In trying to come up with a new cleaning protocol, the airline claims it wanted to identify a solution that considered the feedback from employees and addressed concerns of guests, in order to make cleaning more efficient.

Here’s the new procedure, as of August 1, 2020:

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  • One ramp agent agent will board the aircraft as soon as the flight arrives and the door is opened
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  • During passenger deplaning, flight attendants should follow their standard procedures to tidy the aircraft, which includes crossing seatbelts, picking up trash, and opening all overhead bins
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  • The ramp agent will follow the flight attendants as they tidy, and will clean the top, bottom, and latch of each tray table
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  • At provisioning station locations, the provisioning agent will clean the lavatories, while at all other stations, the ramp agent will perform that work

Southwest Airlines claims that it recently tested five modified cleaning procedures at Dallas Love Field Airport. The above solution was selected based on feedback from employees and customers.

The airline explains that tray tables and lavatories are the most important areas to clean between fights, since they’re the most prone to contamination.

An enhanced cleaning procedure will continue to occur every night, and deep cleaning, including electrostatic spraying, will occur every 30 days.

Southwest is continuing to block seats

While this development from Southwest is obviously disappointing, Southwest does deserve credit for the fact that it sells only two thirds of seats on flights, which means no one should be sitting next to a stranger in a middle seat. If I were to book a flight, I’d absolutely seek out an airline that doesn’t sell flights to capacity.

Bottom line

Southwest Airlines is no longer cleaning all surfaces between flights, and is now just focusing on lavatories and tray tables. In fairness, this wasn’t an industry-standard practice. This really only eliminates a competitive cleaning advantage of Southwest, rather than being a situation where Southwest is doing worse than competitors.

Personally I also found Southwest’s justification to be disappointing here. The airline claims its flight schedule is evolving, therefore flights are returning to having normal turn times, and therefore the time available to clean between flights is reduced.

Isn’t that the wrong approach to take during a pandemic? Shouldn’t the airline be building its schedule around longer turn times, given that cleaning should be the number one priority to keep passengers safe?

What do you make of this development from Southwest?