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Southwest Airlines offers some of the most generous change and cancellation fees in the industry, but you might still be wondering about how Southwest is specifically responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Is Southwest making any changes on board your flight to keep you safe? If you have a trip booked through Southwest Vacations, how will this be handled? This article will answer all of your COVID-19 questions related to Southwest Airlines.
Southwest never charges fees to change or cancel flights. Even credits from canceled Wanna Get Away (non-refundable) fares can be applied to future travel.
Southwest Vacations notes that “Southwest Vacations is aware that government mandates have resulted in restrictions on travel in some destinations due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Unfortunately, many of the restrictions will result in flight and hotel cancellations.”
If your vacation is affected, the trip will be canceled and a travel credit will be issued for the full amount (not including the cost of travel protection). Southwest Vacations specifically notes that “you do not need to contact us regarding your cancellation or travel credit. We will reach out to you with more information once the travel credit is processed.”
If you purchased your vacation using Uplift, see its site for more details.
Bottom Line: If you have a trip booked through Southwest Vacations, make sure you check your email (including junk folders) for communication regarding your travel credits.
Beyond the typical introductory offers, Southwest Airlines offered some additional incentives for Southwest-branded credit cardholders to earn tier qualifying points (or TQPs) in 2021, though these initiatives have now lapsed.
Keep an eye on this space for any future credit card incentives Southwest might have.
Flight Reductions and Cancellations
Southwest Airlines has seen schedule reductions as a direct result of COVID-19. Overall, the impact so far has been less than other U.S.-based airlines since Southwest primarily operates domestically.
Southwest has dramatically increased Hawaii service — something it cut severely after various stages of quarantine were announced for visitors.
In addition, Southwest added many nonstop (or resumed) routes to the summer 2022 schedule. For the press release, see the Southwest website.
During the height of the pandemic, Southwest suspended its entire international network. Flights have been resuming as local government regulation allows. Most of the additions to the upcoming summer 2022 schedule include nonstop service to its international destinations.
All international destinations that Southwest flies to are currently open for travelers, however, many locations have entry requirements. For detail regarding Southwest’s international destinations, see its website for updated information.
In fact, during the Q3 2021 earnings release call, Southwest noted that “we are aggressively hiring to a goal of approximately
5,000 new Employees by the end of this year, and we are currently more than halfway toward that goal.”
Additional safety precautions have been made in the cabin as a result of the pandemic.
Food and Beverage Service
Hot Tip: Southwest’s food and beverage service has resumed on all flights, including alcoholic beverages.
For flights over 250 miles, Southwest is serving “a limited selection of non-alcoholic beverages and snacks.”
For flights that are shorter than 250 miles, Southwest temporarily suspended all onboard beverage and snack service until further notice. You are always able to bring your own snacks and beverages onboard.
Southwest Airlines does not assign seats nor allow you to buy the extra middle seat. You can board and select your seat in the order noted on your boarding pass. Seats are not blocked off.
As of May 1, 2020, new procedures “will introduce additional cleaning between flights to supplement the work of Flight Attendants who keep cabins tidy.” Southwest Airlines also notes that it has “enhanced our overnight cleaning procedures. In addition to tidying each aircraft between flights, we spend more than 6 hours cleaning each aircraft every night.”
However, as of August 2021, Southwest decreased its COVID-19 sanitation procedures due to an increased schedule. Specifically, Southwest is only disinfecting high-touch areas like lavatories and tray tables between flights. Armrests and seat belts will not be disinfected between flights and only cleaned in the evenings.
The EPA-approved disinfectant, which was previously only used to clean the lavatories, is now being used throughout the aircraft. Southwest indicates that “these procedures meet or exceed recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).”
In terms of air quality, it states that the onboard HEPA filters and the air circulation system exceed “the quality of air that can be found outdoors, as well as a typical office building or similar public venue. On average, a complete exchange of cabin air and outside air is accomplished every 3 minutes.”
Hot Tip: On April 18, 2022, a federal judge struck down the mask mandate and policies are now up to the individual airline. Southwest Airlines is no longer requiring masks on planes.
Since May 11, 2020, customers are required to wear face coverings or a mask. Southwest will provide a mask if a customer forgets their mask. Southwest will also distribute sanitizing wipes to passengers who need them.
Southwest won’t let you board without a mask, even if you have a valid medical condition that precludes you from wearing one. Masks are required for everyone above the age of 2. See the updated mask policy.
Boarding and Deplaning Process Changes
While Southwest was requiring groups to board in groups of 10, as of April 2021, this is no longer the case. Southwest has resumed boarding at its pre-pandemic groupings of 30.
Beginning on June 16, 2020, Southwest announced that a “Customer Health Declaration” must be acknowledged during online check-in (via the Southwest app, Southwest.com, SWABIZ.com, or the carrier’s mobile website).
Passengers will be required to acknowledge an awareness of the carrier’s face-covering policy and confirm that they do not have symptoms of COVID-19 and have not been diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19 in the 10 days prior to travel. They will also have to confirm that they do not have a fever when they travel.
On the Q3 2021 earnings call, Southwest noted that “as of September 30, 2021, 24 -700 aircraft remained in temporary storage due to fourth-quarter 2021 capacity remaining below fourth quarter 2019 levels.”
Southwest’s operations have suffered less than its competitors, but it has still been greatly impacted by COVID-19.
If you find that you must travel, there are increased measures to keep you safe at the airport and on your flight. Food and beverage services have been temporarily altered and additional disinfection procedures will help keep you safe. Needless to say — your next flight on Southwest will look a bit different.
Featured Image Credit: Stephen M. Keller via Southwest
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I still earn my Companion Pass because of coronavirus?
If you already have a Companion Pass through June 30, 2021, you should have received an extension of this benefit through December 31, 2021.
There are currently no announced concessions in place for 2022, but this may change.
How do I cancel my Southwest flight?
Southwest Airlines never charges cancellation or change fees.
If your travel funds were originally set to expire or created between March 1, 2020, and September 7, 2020, you would have received a travel credit that you can use for travel through September 7, 2022. See Southwest’s website for more information.
Do I need to take a COVID-19 test before flying on Southwest?
Southwest Airlines itself is not requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test to fly. However, if you are flying to a location that is requiring a negative COVID-19 test, Southwest will ask for proof prior to boarding.
Currently, you must show evidence of a negative COVID-19 test to travel back to the U.S. from international destinations. Check the Southwest COVID-19 site for more details.
Do I need to wear a mask on Southwest?
Yes. Federal law requires every passenger (over the age of 2) to wear a mask at all times in the airport and throughout the flight. Refusing to wear a mask can result in denial of boarding, removal from the aircraft, and/or penalties under federal law.
After having “non-rev” privileges with Southwest Airlines, Christy dove into the world of points and miles so she could continue traveling for free. Her other passion is personal finance, and is a certified CPA.