DALLAS — Masks are still required on all flights, but Southwest Airlines is restoring some normalcy to flying in the way it boards planes and what it serves in the air.
Dallas-based Southwest has returned to its normal boarding procedure, bringing on passengers in groups of 30. During the pandemic, it loaded passengers 10 at a time to give more space for social distancing.
Southwest made the boarding change on flights starting March 15, spokesman Dan Landson said.
“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,” Landson said in a statement.
Southwest, the nation’s largest carrier last year, has been slowly bringing back procedures it had before the pandemic. The carrier started selling planes to capacity for flights starting Dec. 1, dropping a policy that essentially allowed middle seats to stay open for most of the pandemic.
Airlines have been tinkering with procedures during much of the pandemic, trying to give customers more peace of mind when flying. That has included increased cleaning procedures and efforts to keep customers and employees apart.
That has starting to come to an end with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines for the virus that has killed nearly 550,000 Americans. Airlines have reported an uptick in flying, and passenger numbers this month are the strongest since the pandemic began. Flights now are nearly two-thirds full on average, according to Airlines 4 America.
Southwest also is starting to restore some of its onboard beverage options after handing out only water for months. COVID-19 forced carriers to cut down on interactions between passengers and crew.
Southwest is offering Coke, Diet Coke and 7UP in addition to water. That’s far fewer than it stocked before, when it had Dr Pepper, juices and even hot cocoa available for passengers.
And Southwest is still serving a “limited selection of nonalcoholic beverages” on flights more than 250 miles, according to the company’s website. Alcoholic beverages are available for purchase.
“Our customers are expressing a preference for additional beverage options, so this is one small way that we can meet customer requests while still limiting selections to support the wellbeing and comfort of our customers and employees,” Landson said.