Southwest Airlines is making a number of major changes to its flight operations amid the new realities of travel.
The changes range from face covering policies to a spectrum of social-distancing policies, all of which reflect the way we will all have to travel — at least in the short term.
First, Southwest has become the most recent air carrier to announce a policy requiring masks or face coverings for travelers. (Major carriers including American Airlines and JetBlue have put in similar requirements).
The new policy will go into effect May 11, according to a statement from Southwest.
On May 3, the airline began requiring customer-facing employees to wear face masks or coverings.
Southwest Airlines said that customers who forgot their masks would receive one on the flight.
It’s part of a broader new hygiene policy for the low-cost carrier, from multiple cleanings of Southwest spaces in airports to available sanitizing wipes in-flight and nightly, wide-ranging cleanings of aircraft.
The carrier said it would also “continue” using HEPA air filters to circulate air in the cabin.
Earlier this week, Southwest said it would be “temporarily” limiting the number of passengers seated in the cabin in order to “allow customers to spread out in comfortable distances.”
“Customers may still pick their own seat, and Southwest will not be blocking seats or directing seating,” the airline said. “In our open seating environment, families or those traveling together may sit together.”
Southwest has also suspended inflight beverage and snack service, although customers can bring their own food and drink on board.
Earlier this week, the airline began boarding in groups of 10 people at a time.
Starting this month, the airline is also adding plexiglass shields at ticket counters and gate podiums, along with adding floor markers for social distancing — although the company encouraged customers to download mobile boarding passes.
While much of the Caribbean remains on lockdown, these changes will likely still be in effect when tourism eventually returns to the region.