Southwest Ditching Pandemic-era Policy of Boarding in Smaller Groups

Southwest Airlines is reverting to pre-COVID-19 boarding practices, becoming the latest airline to forgo pandemic-era modifications.

"Many customers are familiar with Southwest's standard boarding style, and the expectation for the normal boarding process was becoming increasingly important as additional customers return to travel with us," a Southwest spokesperson confirmed to Travel + Leisure on Wednesday. "Southwest Airlines maintains physical distancing reminders in airport areas and encourages social distancing."

On March 15, the airline started boarding passengers in groups of 30, increasing the number of passengers allowed to get on the plane at once. Previously, Southwest — which doesn't assign seats — was limiting boarding groups to 10 people.

Southwest cabin

"Southwest's policy and the federal mask mandate require Customers and Employees to wear face masks at all times throughout the airport, while boarding and deplaning, and onboard the aircraft, per Southwest's policy and the federal mask mandate," the spokesperson added.

On Tuesday, a representative for the airline replied to a customer inquiry on Twitter, confirming the change and adding it "is in line with the CDC recommendation that wearing a face mask or covering is one of the most important tools for combatting the transmission of COVID-19 in a public setting."

"It actually dramatically impacts the boarding process now that more Customers are [traveling]," the representative wrote in a follow-up tweet. "It's important for us to get you to your destination [on time], Safely, and efficiently. Every minute helps."

The change comes just days after JetBlue stopped boarding its planes back-to-front, its policy aimed at reducing contact between passengers.

Boarding practices aren't the only COVID-19-related protocols airlines have let fade away. While Delta Air Lines continues to block middle seats on flights, others — including Southwest and JetBlue — have eliminated the policy.

All travelers are required to wear face masks when on public transportation, including on a plane and in an airport. Additionally, the Federal Aviation Administration extended its zero-tolerance policy for unruly passengers after airlines reported more than 500 disruptive incidents since late December, many involving passengers who refuse to wear a face mask.

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.

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