Southwest Airlines is reportedly cutting down on its coronavirus cleaning regime between flights in a bid to speed up turnaround times.
The carrier told flight attendants that the procedure would “focus on a few items – tray tables and lavatories”, while getting rid of extra steps such as sanitising seatbelts.
In a staff memo seen by CNN, the airline wrote: “As our flight schedule evolves, we are returning to standard turnaround time.”
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However, Southwest is continuing to deep clean every aircraft overnight.
A spokesperson for the airline told The Independent that these cleans would be enhanced further now that processes in between flights are going to be less intensive.
“We are optimising available staffing and coordinating our Southwest Promise elements by now cleaning some areas only during our overnight cleaning process, when Southwest teams spend six to seven hours per aircraft cleaning all interior surfaces,” they said.
“This approach is one more process evolution designed to support our multi-layered cleaning programme that occurs throughout the day.”
They added: “As part of the Southwest Promise. Southwest is committed to a multi-layered cleaning approach that supports the wellness and comfort of our customers and employees, and customer feedback indicates that our new policy of cleaning prior to every flight is a valued element of the Southwest Promise.
“With this in mind, we continue cleaning tray tables at every seat and all aircraft lavatories by utilising a broad-spectrum disinfectant before every flight.
“Additionally, an electrostatic spraying process applies a disinfectant and anti-microbial spray to every surface of the aircraft, killing viruses on contact and forming an anti-microbial coating, or shield, for 30 days. We also continue providing wipes to customers, upon request, to clean any on-board surface.”
The “turnaround time” refers to the amount of time an aircraft is on the ground between flights while passengers deplane, cabin crew clean the aircraft and prepare for the next service, and the next load of travellers boards.
Generally speaking, the faster the turnaround time, the more money airlines can make as the more flights they can fit in.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Ryanair, Europe’s biggest budget airline, famously aimed for a turnaround time of just 25 minutes.
The Transport Workers Union, which represents Southwest flight attendants, said the airline should do whatever it can to help passengers feel safe flying again.
“We will monitor this change and continue to advocate for best practices at every carrier for the safest possible air travel.”
Southwest will continue to leave aircraft middle seats empty in order to enable social distancing until the end of October. It has also committed to cleaning ticket counters, gates and baggage claim areas at airports multiple times a day.