Dallas-based carrier, Southwest Airlines, has implemented new cleaning protocols in which armrests and seat belts will not be wiped down between each flight. This is change to the cleaning procedures that were implemented in March when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold worldwide.
Between-flight disinfecting is now focused on high-touch areas, such as bathrooms and tray tables, Ro Hawthorne of Southwest tells Lonely Planet, as these are the most prone to contamination from customer use and food/beverage consumption. Southwest will also provide sanitizing wipes to passengers, upon request, to wipe down surfaces.
The new procedures are in response to an increase in flight scheduling and minimizing the turnaround time between flights. While the armrests and seat belts will not be disinfected between flights, they will be included in the airline's "enhanced" nightly cleaning protocol, where cleaning teams spend six to seven hours deep-cleaning all interior surfaces per aircraft, including seat belt buckles, tray tables, air vents, arm rests, galleys and lavatories.
Each plane undergoes a "deep" electrostatic cleaning once a month, which the airline says kills viruses on contact and forms an anti-microbial coating, or shield, for 30 days. According to Southwest, this application causes droplets of both a disinfection agent and antimicrobial cleaner to produce a fine mist that wraps around all surfaces and coats in a way that human hands can't touch.
"Southwest will monitor customer and employee feedback as we adapt to the new normal in air travel, while ensuring we keep safety as our top priority," says Hawthorne.