Southwest Airlines has instructed cabin crew to throttle back on COVID-related cleaning procedures, in a bid to “return to standard turnaround time” as it restores its flight network.
In a memo leaked to press, the Dallas-based airline urged crew members to “focus on a few items – tray tables and lavatories” during cabin cleans.
“These are the most important areas to clean between each flight as they are prone to contamination from customer use and food/beverage consumption,” reads the memo.
Armrests and seat belts will no longer be cleaned between flights, though the airline has since stressed that nose-to-tail deep cleans will continue on a daily basis.
“Since flight schedules have increased, other areas of the aircraft will be disinfected during our overnight cleaning process, when Southwest Teams spend six to seven hours per aircraft cleaning all interior surfaces,” said Southwest spokeswoman Ro Hawthorne.
“We’re also providing sanitising wipes to customers, upon request, to wipe down any on-board surface.”
Union representatives hinted that, while the airline has largely been ahead of the curve in terms of COVID cleaning procedures, the move could indicate a backslide.
“Southwest has been ahead of the industry in a lot of ways including electrostatic spraying, overnight deep cleaning and most recently requiring all passengers to wear face coverings with no exemptions,” said Thom McDaniel, an official with the Transport Workers Union.
“We will monitor this change and continue to advocate for best practices at every carrier for the safest possible air travel.”
Southwest first developed a reputation for turnarounds in the 1970s, after the airline cut down the standard 60-minute turnaround time to an average of just 10 minutes.