Southwest Reduces Aircraft Cleaning Between Flights

Filed Under: Southwest

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:

  • One ramp agent agent will board the aircraft as soon as the flight arrives and the door is opened
  • 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
  • The ramp agent will follow the flight attendants as they tidy, and will clean the top, bottom, and latch of each tray table
  • 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?

  1. Well, there’s one additional reason not to fly Southwest (WN). They’re an airline in the US I generally avoid (with little effort). No US carrier has more mishaps and safety lapses. The on board service and corporate ethos may be friendly but there are a lot of things not to like about WN and the fact that they’re not deep cleaning planes any longer between all flights amid a pandemic, and in a country embroiled in a civil war and one that cannot, in spite of all its resources and supposed might, cannot get this pandemic under some sort of control, is a further reason to steer clear.

  2. There has been such an abundance of research publications in the last couple of months from all areas of the world, showing that surface transmission of COVID19 is virtually non-existent, that this is a reasonable move in my opinion.

    The amount of time, cleaning materials and plastic that is wasted for no other reason than a hygiene theatre to reassure the public is staggering. Much more cases could have been prevented if that effort and money would have been put into providing better information, enforcing wearing of the correct mask types and making more distancing possible.

  3. I would have thought also cleaning belt buckles, air nozzles (does Southwest even have those?), and armrests would be very desirable between each flight. You can guarantee passengers will have touched those surfaces.

    And don’t all these companies tell us that our safety is their number 1 priority? Though obviously not when that gets in the way of making a few dollars.

    These companies are sociopaths who couldn’t care less about customer safety (except when being seen not to care gets in the way of making money).

  4. While there was great concern about surface transmission of the virus during the first few months of the virus, scientific research has shown that surface transmission is actually highly unlikely. The Atlantic ran a great piece last week on all the “enhanced cleaning procedures” we’re still seeing from various firms and agencies. The title is “The Scourge of Hygiene Theater” and is worth reading:

    Blocking middle seats is a much more effective antiviral policy, not so much for the small amount of spacing it creates as for the 1/3 reduction in passengers who might spread the virus through talking, coughing, etc.

  5. As between an airline that performs only this level of cleaning and one that does not block middle seats, I’ll take the one that limits cleaning any day.

    Cleaning surfaces to contain spread is SO April. The strong preponderance of information coming out from the past 3 months is that the concern is respiratory spread, not surface contamination.

  6. It would be great if you could do a comparison of cleaning procedures for the major US carriers. While this sounds like bad news, I have no idea if this is still better than carrier Foo or it’s now the worst, even worse than Bar!

  7. Now if they would stop considering deodorant, water and cheese as explosives then the Off-off-off Broadway performances at our airports could finally get better.

  8. “The above solution was selected based on feedback from employees and customers”. I’m sorry, what/which customers are suggesting that the cleaning protocols are too extensive and should be eliminated and/or reduced? T

  9. Cmon! This is outrageous. The deep cleaning practice should be kept an industry standard. Not like we are in any other ordinary day or something, WE ARE IN A PANDEMIC and yet these airlines choose to maximize profits (although i appreciate them for not selling out the middle seats). But air nozzles and window blinds should be cleaned thoroughly (!!!).
    Should Southwest choose to follow this method, then they atleast have to provide their passengers with a wet wipe (not everyone brings wet wipes onboard), so that the passengers could clean the surfaces themselves like window blinds, seat armrests etc.

  10. I’ll go against the grain here, as I re-clean everything anyways with a disinfectant wipe now (surfaces that I will touch; i.e. IFE, windows, armrest, seatbelts). Had a couple of Delta segments that were delayed because of cleaning.

    CDC already said that COVID’s surface contamination rate is fairly low.

  11. I have been on a WN plan during these between flight cleanings in early July and the cleaning was minimal. This is not a major change and is not newsworthy. I would much rather have the empty middle seat than a cursory cleaning between flights. Keep in mind, each plane still has a deep clean each night.

  12. I agree with the others regarding likelihood of surface transmission being low & if there are CoVid droplets on a surface, the viral load is likely too low to do much more than create an immune response (good). As travelers, we should take SOME accountability for our own safety: wiping down surfaces as many of us have been doing for a long time, washing hands, not touching our eyes/nose & opening/closing lav doors with a tissue. We often sit for long periods in the boarding areas & I’ve yet to see an airport employee routinely wiping down chairs/arm rests, elevator buttons and/or escalator hand rails…ALL cootie collectors

  13. I fly Southwest quite often, at least twice a month, and have done so for many years. Southwest is a great airline in many many ways. Reasonable fares, easy change policies and friendly employees just to name a (very) few. But their planes are NOT clean.

  14. I agree with Jan. I trust my own cleaning more than the airlines’. I carry wipes and alcohol spray and it works well (so far).

  15. 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?………. Shouldn’t you be staying home instead of flying, its a pandemic after all so they say. Why are you relying on any airline to keep you safe when you can just not fly.

  16. I’m pretty sure the airline’s number one priority is bringing passengers from point A to point B without falling out of the sky, @Roman

  17. The electrostatic spray being sprayed stays on surfaces for up to 30 days.

    Even enhanced hand wiping misses so many areas of the plane, so I don’t see this as being that much of a concern.

  18. We are in the age of BS where there is no standard of justification. We really do not have this COVID thing figured out. Perhaps in 5 years time we can look back and assess what should have been done with the benefit of hindsight.

    SW has made a financial decision that their turn times are a higher priority than preventing transmission (or managing the perception). Like it or not, every business and government makes the same decision when they push everyone to go “back to normal” without covering all the contingencies.

  19. Who cares? I believe that there’s not a single documented case of SARS-CoV-2 transmission via surfaces. It makes sense that airlines don’t waste money on “cleaning theater.”

  20. One of the reasons Southwest is limiting the cleanings between flights is that it is breaking down the effectiveness of the monthly electrostatic sprayings. I am surprised this wasn’t mentioned in your article. On a health note constantly using hand sanitizers and touching surfaces with fresh cleaning agents can permanently damage your bodies production of virus fighting bacteria. That’s why the CDC and others stress using soap and warm water to wash your hands.

  21. Why would you allow dirty filthy, sweaty ramp employees to professional clean a plan?

    Hire a professional company that specializes in this service, like All other airlines do. If it wasn’t for this Pandemic, Southwest Never cleans their planes. They’d rather use their fight attendants as cleaners, so sad.

    People, kids and pets, touch everything on the plane, from the floor, armrest, seat belt, tray tables, air vents, flight attendant call button to the window shade, no to mention the seat itself.

    I’m absolutely Not ok with, this “Lickty Split” cleaning it’s dangerous as the virus can live on surfaces for days!

    But as the saying goes, you get what you pay for! That’s Why I fly Delta, their commitment to safety, cleanliness and customer service has always been there commitment not just because this Pandemic came along.

    If you can’t afford to be in business they get out of the way and let another airline do what it does best.

  22. Southwest and other airlines are femoral bleeding right now. Profits over safety? What airline isn’t slowly (or quickly) bleeding to death right now. There are no profits. The cleaning between flights is more for feeling good than safety anyway.

  23. I just flew on Southwest from Dallas to Raleigh. I’m a healthcare worker. I felt as safe as I possibly could have flying. I witnessed great infection control procedures. They offered sanitizing wipes during flight. The staff was strict about face coverings covering mouth and nose. Social distancing was enforced when boarding in groups of 10. Imo, if you don’t feel safe flying with Southwest during the pandemic, probably shouldn’t fly right now. Bring wipes, bring hand sanitizer.

  24. If there is only ONE thing we learned from the coronavirus, it’s that we live in, and are expected to live in a FILTHY world.

    Once we learned zillions of people were actually dying horrible deaths, oh wow, we saw grocery stores actually being cleaned For the first time.

    Airplanes? Ha! We saw videos of “cleaning crews” walking rapidly through the aisle with cleaning “guns” spraying. We were to believe that that method really deep cleaned the plane! Oh, and yeah we are supposed to believe the airplanes’ HEPA filters do it all! No worry even though the passenger 12 inches or less from you smells of Halls Menthyliptus cough drops and stuffs dirty Kleenex from nose blowing into the pouch on the back of the seat in front of him. So, is it any shock Southwest Airlines is ceasing it’s feigning of any cleaning? When you fly, you get FILTH. Period!

    The whole airline industry is blankety blanked messed up.

    And let’s not forget Southwest is committed to Boeing and will be flying their 747 MAX as soon as the equally messed up FAA gives a nod of approval for them to fly again, that is after pilots complete 2-3 weeks training on how to manage these long tubes with bad software.

    BTW, what’s the company’s mission statement?

  25. Why should we expect companies to provide so much? In different stores I’ll hear a customer complain that the company didn’t clean their carts any more, or not supply a mask, or gloves. What happened to personal responsibility? Bring your own package of disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, and mask. It’s not that hard. Flight crews generally will even announce “we know many of you bring your own wipes to clean your area, so please don’t put that in the seat back…we’ll come by with a trash bag to pick those up”. I believe airlines need to make money getting those planes back in the air quickly. SWA and Delta aren’t making money on flights booked to 60%. Wipe your own air nozzles, window shade, seat belts, and arm rests. Many passengers still did it even AFTER the cleaners did it.

  26. Many thanks to those who mentioned the Atlantic article – a great summary of the simple rules that should be most effective.

  27. People are upset over this? How much more value would you like Southwest to provide? They already block middle seats and they do deep cleaning every night. Should they now provide everyone their own plane out of abundance of caution??? But even that won’t make you complainers happy.

  28. Love SOUTHWEST. Excellent post AR. I am currently more concerned about schools opening in parts of Alabama next week. As a former teacher all I can do is to continue to pray and stay home as much as possible.

  29. @Marina This is by far one of the worst comments I’ve ever read on this platform. “Why should…companies…provide more?” Seriously? Airlines charge a fairly high price for tickets, and what do they provide? FILTHY airplanes! It seems possible that you’re a FA. Your comment is written as though you have some personal interest in keeping the airplanes FILTHY. At least your attitude does.

    What if you came over to my house and I expected you to bring your own package of disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer? What if you were expected to clean the crumbs off the chair you sit on or wipe off the table before you dine? What if you were expected to use a messy bathroom and had to wipe it down before using it? As you say, “It’s not that hard (to clean up after someone else).

    Your attitude is that passengers need to let airlines focus on MONEY. You don’t like them flying at 60% capacity. You say “those planes” need to get back in the air quickly “to make money.” (Could it be for your wages?) You say “Wipe your own air nozzles, window shade, seat belts, and arm rest.” Then you insinuate passengers clean their own space “even AFTER the cleaners did it.” Have you ever considered that the reputation the airlines earned makes the airlines untrustworthy? How do passengers know if something’s been cleaned? The airlines have set a standard, and that standard is “You fly on FILTHY airplanes, and we pack you in like hogs.”

    You say FAs come by to pick up trash. Have you ever watched them bolt from front to back without collecting much trash? You say the FAs announce “we know many of you bring your own wipes to clean your area…” That’s just shameful. Airlines have been putting passengers in that position for years, and now they blame it on the passengers.

    Let’s face it. People have needs…even if it’s a 3 hour flight. They eat. They drink. They use tissues. They have garbage. They have dirty hands. Some people are not tidy, but most people are decent people and care about other people. When airlines don’t set a good example by offering a valuable product, like a CLEAN airplane, many people give up. If the airline doesn’t care, neither do they. They board a FILTHY airplane, so they depart a FILTHY airplane. It’s that simple. It’s that sad. People like you could do much more to be encouraging for the good of society.

    I’ll stick by what I said: If there is only ONE thing we learned from the coronavirus, it’s that we live in, and are expected to live in a FILTHY world.

  30. @KR. I am a flight attendant and your comments themself are filthy. I never DEPEND on anyone for my safety. I wear masks and gloves and carry my hand sanitizers and wipes. I don’t live in a filthy world. You do. Bring your own. I wear my masks to protect you. I hope you wear them to protect others from you.

  31. @ skygal1 There’s nothing at all filthy about my comments. They are the truth, and no one needs to clean up the truth. Everyone knows airplanes are FILTHY. If they weren’t, why did the airlines increase their cleaning when the pandemic occurred? They were DIRTY. Plain and simple.
    It seems you’ve taken this personal. No one is talking about YOU. No one is talking about you, or any other FA wearing a mask, gloves or carrying your own hand sanitizers and wipes. This is about Southwest Airlines ceasing the cleaning of their airplanes – the ones passenger PAY to fly on.
    Apparently, Southwest Airlines ought to RE-train their FAs, those of which they don’t intend to furlough, to look beyond themselves and care for their paying passengers rather than looking out just for themselves. We all wear a mask, but what about CLEANING the airplanes?

  32. @KR I seriously think you should consider driving everywhere you go from now on. What a simplistic point of view you have. Yes, all airlines are trying to make money and those high fares pay for fuel, employee wages, benifits, baggage carts, pushbacks, etc…the cost of running and operating a business and then they try to eek out a profit after all that. However, now the airlines, in an effort to make people feel safer have limited the number of those tickets VOLUNTARLY!
    Do planes get dirty, sure. I fly quite often and I am continually amazed at the mess that PASSENGERS will leave in their seats despite the flights attendants continually picking up trash. During this pandemic we need to be personally accountable for our own safety. If the airlines are willing to operate at a loss to fly you from point A to point B in a fraction of the time it would take you to drive, you can wipe down a seat and wear a mask; or dont and get in your car and drive. Just remember every time you fill up for gas to wear a pair of gloves because I haven’t noticed too many gas stations out there cleaning off those nozzles.

  33. used to fly swa exclusively and often. A+, companion pass the last several years, RR credit card, all that. loved their no change fees, appreciated no bag fees and usually good to decent fares, and smiled occasionally at their folksiness

    haven’t flown them since november when the reporting broke about the foreign airplanes they bought and flew without proper inspections and some in un-airworthy condition. hand-slapped by the FAA they’re in bed with. they risked thousands of lives. and their first priority is customer and employee safety?!?!

    i have no respect for their BS PR-answers. and they use their “safety culture” as a shield with the FAA against the very responsibility and accountability that safety requires.

    and i have come to believe they have blood on their hands with their response to the Max crisis, after the second crash they pushed for not grounding the planes, when the data was uncertain they wanted to keep flying them until the “data” showed that the Max was the problem (that DATA would have been another crash and hundreds more deaths), the data being uncertain of the cause (and the similarities between the crashes with the Max plane type being one of the few commonalities) should have been enough to ground the planes out of caution.

    and as boeing’s largest customer it was their pushing for deadlines and pushing for no need for any additional pilot training to be needed (punishment price breaks, or “incentives”, built into the contracts with boeing) that lead to alot of boeing’s carelessness

    swa is a corporation, people. they are constrained by rules but their mission is not to keep passengers and employees safe. their mission, like every other corporation, is to maximize profits, no more no less. actuarial tables (and calculations of payouts to families of deceased vs costs of implementing fixes) are not relics of the past. rules & regs have decreased, the fox is guarding the henhouse, and the enforcer (FAA) is that “cool parent” who wants to be friends rather than the disciplinarian

    they all have their flaws but swa has been too egregious in choosing profits over safety. and, like boeing, too convinced of their own infallibility. they have lost this customer, not that losing this one customer makes any difference to them


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