Earlier today, Southwest Airlines released our third quarter 2020 financial results. Along with our financial performance, we announced that flights departing December 1 and later will operate without an artificial cap that, through November 30, limits the number of people traveling on each flight and allows middle seats to remain open.
So why are we making this change now? Guaranteed distance onboard was introduced at a time when little was known about the behavior of the virus and to bring comfort to returning travelers. We now have a chorus of scientific studies that point to aircraft cabins as an environment where transmission of the virus is statistically improbable for two primary reasons: the uniform usage of masks; and sophisticated air systems that introduce fresh air throughout a flight with a mix of HEPA filtered air that replenishes the entire volume of cabin air every two to three minutes. As we continue to learn more about the virus through data-driven research from reputable institutions, we are evolving The Southwest Promise to focus on initiatives that offer the highest level of protection for everyone traveling with us, including mask enforcement; cleaning; HEPA filters; and fresh air onboard.
True to our Brand, we are making this change in full transparency with flexibility for our Customers. In fact, we’re enhancing Southwest’s flexibility by offering a refund for all Customers booked prior to October 23 for travel on December 1 or later—and by empowering Customers who choose to keep their booked travel to make a change with no fare difference when we can’t guarantee middle seats will be open on their flight.
Refunds: We recognize that some Customers may have booked travel with the hope that our middle seat block would be extended beyond November. Therefore, we’re offering added flexibility by allowing refunds for all Customers booked prior to October 23 for travel on December 1 or later. On Friday, October 23, Customers booked on travel beginning December 1 will get an email that provides an option for a refund back to their original form of payment, regardless of the fare purchased. These Customers will have until midnight on October 31 (CST) to opt for this policy exception, and the refund must be initiated through a link provided in the October 23r email delivered to all eligible Customers.
Full Flight Changes: Customers who keep their booking will be notified two to three days before travel if their flight is booked to a capacity where middle seats will likely be occupied. Those Customers will be given the option to change to a flight (if another flight is available) that is less full within three days of their original flight at no additional charge.
We continue to uphold The Southwest Promise by requiring and enforcing face masks throughout the travel journey for Customers and Employees, ensuring clean air onboard, maintaining an extensive multi-layered cleaning program, and leaning toward our Customers by offering the most flexible policies that put the choice to travel in the hands of the Customer.
Rest assured, our top priority remains, and always will be, the safety of our Employees and Customers.
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As the Southwest Airlines Team continues supporting the well-being of our Customers and Employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also monitoring the latest outcomes of scientific research to guide our actions and protocols. We’re encouraged that much of the latest research validates the effectiveness of utilizing a multi-layered approach to lower the virus transmission risk associated with flying, like the actions we take as part of our Southwest Promise.
The Southwest Promise is an enduring pledge, but the way we’re upholding our procedures is evolving with guidance from the latest science. Results from a host of studies were recently released, and we are encouraged by the expertise and perspectives from these respected voices:
Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health released a study which concluded that the transmission risk of COVID-19 when flying is lower than other routine activities, such as grocery shopping or dining out, due to multi-layered protective measures, mask wearing, and the ventilation and HEPA filtration systems on aircraft. The scientists concluded that the ventilation and filtration on airplanes is so good that it reduces the possibility of exposure to COVID-19 to a point so low that it “effectively counters the proximity travelers are subject to during flights.” They also previously published a bulletin that concluded wearing face coverings as part of a multi-layered approach offers significant protection from acquiring COVID-19 during air travel. The bulletin supports our face-covering policy and affirms research from other top medical organizations. The report also cited a recent modeling study that concluded that wearing a surgical mask, combined with the ventilation rates onboard aircraft, can reduce the risk of infection from respiratory particles to less than 1 percent.
The International Air Transport Association, or IATA, offers reassuring news about the low risk of virus transmission during flight. Since the start of the year, they found only 44 cases of COVID-19 in which transmission is thought to have been associated with a flight—and many of those cases occurred in the early stages of the pandemic before enhanced cleaning procedures and mandatory face mask requirements were widely implemented by airlines. That’s 44 people out of the nearly 1.2 billion passengers who have traveled in 2020, or one case for every 27 million travelers this year. As IATA suggests, this is approximately the same risk category as being struck by lightning.
Airbus, Boeing, and Embraer also recently shared findings regarding cabin airflow. The manufacturers found that a combination of an airplane’s airflow systems, high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, barriers created by the seatbacks, downward airflow in aircraft cabins, and the high rates of air exchange efficiently limit the spread of viruses and reduce the risk of disease transmission. When you layer in the use of face coverings, the manufacturer’s data concludes that being in close proximity within an aircraft cabin is safer than most other indoor environments.
The U.S. Department of Defense’s U.S. Transportation Command released the results from its Commercial Aircraft Cabin Aerosol Dispersion Test showing the overall exposure risk from aerosolized pathogens, like coronavirus, is very low on the types of aircraft they studied. The research indicated that high air exchange rate diluted particles within the aircraft cabins studied in less than six minutes, on average, and the typical American home takes about 90 minutes to clear the same types of particles. Additionally, the study concluded that the high air exchange coupled with high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration of all recirculated air means a commercial aircraft’s air supply system provides protection greater than the design standards for a patient isolation room or a hospital operating room.
Along with reviewing the latest science-based findings regarding air travel, Southwest also recently announced that we’ll be collaborating with Stanford University’s School of Medicine. We’ve shared our multi-layered Southwest Promise with an advisory council from Stanford Medicine who agreed that our protocols follow proper science-based principles and can reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission during air travel. We received positive feedback on actions such as our enhanced cleaning of aircraft, the requirement of face coverings for travel, and utilizing HEPA filters onboard aircraft, which remove at least 99.97% of airborne particles from cabin air. We’ll continue collaborating with Stanford Medicine for insights that will help us evolve our policies as we continue delivering on the Southwest Promise.
The Southwest Team is working each day to ensure that our multi-layered approach to cleaning and supporting your safety stays current with the latest research findings and public health guidance. When you’re ready to travel again, we’ll be ready to welcome you onboard with actions that support your well-being and comfort. We hope to see you soon!
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Today, we announced Southwest Airlines is working with the Stanford University School of Medicine to review our multi-layered approach to supporting the well-being of Customers and Employees during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Southwest Promise encompasses the changes Southwest has made to our around-the-clock operations, cleaning procedures, and physical-distancing measures, and representatives from Stanford Medicine will now offer medical advice and protocol recommendations to guide the our ongoing and future efforts during the pandemic.
As part of the collaboration, Southwest will have access to an advisory council comprised of Stanford Medicine’s physician-scientists with knowledge and expertise in infectious diseases, prevention and testing protocols, and the latest medical research about COVID-19. This advisory council will provide insights to support Southwest’s commitment to keeping Safety as an uncompromising priority.
The Southwest Promise: A Multi-Layered Approach to Cleaning and Comfort
Stanford Medicine will serve as a trusted advisor, in addition to Southwest’s current relationship with UT Southwestern Medical Center, to review elements of The Southwest Promise, which are implemented to create a comfortable travel experience and support the well-being of Employees and Customers. The commitment to cleaning and distancing measures encompasses the following elements:
Prior to Travel:
Face Coverings Required: All Southwest Customers and Employees over the age of two are required to wear a covering over their mouth and nose throughout the travel journey. If a Customer does not have a face covering, Southwest will have face masks available at the airport and onboard our aircraft.
Customer Health Declaration: Customers are required to acknowledge an awareness of our face covering policy and confirm they do not have symptoms of COVID-19 and have not been diagnosed with, or exposed to, COVID-19 in the 14 days prior to travel. They also are required to confirm they do not have a fever when they travel. The declaration appears during the online check-in process via the Southwest app, Southwest.com, the carrier's mobile website, SWABIZ.com, and airport kiosks.
At the Airports:
Airport Cleaning: Southwest is cleaning ticket counters, gates, kiosks, and baggage claim areas multiple times a day. Additionally, Southwest is utilizing electrostatic sprayers to apply a disinfectant to airport areas at least once per week.
Physical Distancing in Airports: Southwest is boarding in smaller groups of 10 to allow for distancing and queuing only on one side of boarding poles in the gate areas. Additionally, new airport signage and floor markers highlight and encourage proper distances throughout the boarding areas. We have also has installed Plexiglas® at ticketing and gate counters and baggage service offices to help everyone keep their distance during in-person transactions and interactions between Employees and Customers.
Hand Hygiene: Hand sanitizer is available at check-in kiosks, ticket counters, and gates.
Onboard Southwest Aircraft:
HEPA Filters: Every aircraft is equipped with a sophisticated air distribution system that introduces fresh, outdoor air and HEPA-filtered air into the cabin while inflight, resulting in an exchange of cabin air every two to three minutes. We use HEPA filters onboard that remove 99.97% of airborne particles*—similar to the technology found in hospitals (*measuring 0.3 micrometers or greater in diameter passing through the filter).
Middle Seats Open: Southwest has committed to keeping the equivalent of all middle seats open through Nov. 30 to allow room for physical distancing onboard every flight.
Enhanced Overnight Aircraft Cleaning: Southwest deep cleans each plane from nose to tail for nearly six to seven labor hours every night, including all high-touch surfaces such as seat belt buckles, tray tables, air vents, arm rests, galleys, and lavatories.
Electrostatic Aircraft Spraying: Both an electrostatic disinfectant and an anti-microbial spray are applied on every surface of the aircraft, killing viruses on contact and, then, forming an anti-microbial coating, or shield, for 30 days.
Cleaning Before Every Flight: Sani-Cide EX3, a broad-spectrum disinfectant, is used to clean onboard lavatories and tray tables before every flight. Additionally, sanitizing wipes are available for Customers onboard, upon request.
We invite you to learn more about our efforts at www.southwest.com/promise.
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Have you ever been waiting in the security line at the airport just wishing there was a way for you to “fly” through the checkpoint? Well, soon your wish can be made possible if you are traveling through participating Southwest Airlines airports! Later this month, Southwest Airlines will implement a priority security lane program, fittingly branded “Fly By Security Lanes." Fly By lanes will initially be available in the following airports: • Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL), • San Francisco International Airport (SFO), • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), • Denver International Airport (DEN), • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), • Orange County John Wayne Airport (SNA), • Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI). Look for more rollouts in the following months, as we plan to implement Fly By Security Lanes in additional locations. So how can you access the Fly By Security Lane? It’s as easy as purchasing a Business Select Fare, which already grants you priority boarding, bonus Rapid Rewards credit, and a drink coupon. You can also access the Fly By Security Lanes when you become a Rapid Rewards A-List Member by flying at least 16 roundtrips over the course of 12 months. (A-List Members also earn priority boarding privileges and automatic check-in!) When you enter the Fly By Security Lane, you will need to present one of two credentials: 1. If you are a Rapid Rewards A-list Member, you will show your A-List identification card (which should be in your home by the end of this week). 2. If you purchase a Business Select Fare, you simply need to present your boarding pass. In some cases, the Fly By lane will not have dedicated screening equipment, but the lane will still let you reach the screening process more quickly. Keep in mind that family members or others traveling with A-List or Business Select Customers are not allowed to "piggyback" with a Fly By-eligible Customer. So as you are traveling this fall, be on the lookout for Fly By Security Lanes - coming to an airport near you!
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