In an earnings call on April 28th, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly indicated that the airline is looking at ways to adapt in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. To promote healthy flying, the airline is even considering selling fewer seats on aircraft to encourage social distancing onboard, according to The Points Guy.
Southwest considering selling fewer seats
At the same time as the airline announced a $94 million Q1 loss, Southwest’s CEO said on the earnings call that it was considering selling fewer seats onboard its Boeing 737 aircraft. Beyond this, the airline is also looking at enhanced cleaning practices and requiring face masks for passengers.
Currently, Southwest is running behind the curve when it comes to maintaining social distancing onboard the aircraft. While it has cut international services, suspended onboard food and beverage service, and enhanced cleaning procedures, the airline has not updated any onboard seating policies to promote social distancing. Although, recently, that has not been a major problem given a large number of empty flights.
However, states and cities around the United States are starting to open up again. And, sooner or later, passengers will get back onboard the aircraft. This has led to increased scrutiny about airline policies. Passengers want to have some more space while flying.
The Southwest boarding and seating process
Southwest Airlines does not assign seats. Instead, each passenger is given a boarding order and can choose any available open seat when they get on the plane. The earlier you board, the more options you have. You can, however, purchase priority boarding at the gate if you want better access to seating. But, passengers will not know how many people are on the flight before getting to the gate or onboard the aircraft.
When passengers check-in, they receive a boarding group and position– a combination of a letter and a number. When it comes time to boarding, passengers line up according to their group and their numerical position within the letter group and board in that order. Some fares come with priority boarding. In addition, some elite members can get a better boarding position.
However, the carrier is still selling all available seats on a flight. Also, the lack of pre-assigned seating means passengers are left in the dark a bit about whether or not they will be on a packed plane.
What are other airlines doing?
Other airlines are blocking seats and limiting capacity onboard the aircraft to promote social distancing. This usually means leaving the middle seat open– something Southwest could do with its 3-3 configuration on Boeing 737 aircraft.
Southwest Airlines is currently not yet blocking middle seats or restricting capacity. However, CEO Gary Kelly’s remarks indicate that the airline is examining its options to boost passenger confidence and get people flying with them. It is unclear how soon the airline will release these policies, but it likely will be within the next couple of weeks.
Do you think Southwest should sell fewer seats onboard its aircraft? Let us know in the comments!