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Southwest Airlines expands seat options by making middle seats available

Rachel Mirakova | The Ticker

Southwest Airlines announced that it will start flying at full capacity beginning on Dec. 1, after reporting a third-quarter loss of $1.2 billion in an earnings statement released on Oct. 22. This is an increase from its 65% capacity limit, which had been in place since June.

The company has lost this money due to the ongoing pandemic. Its decision to not limit the number of seats on their flights raises some health and safety concerns. The company strategized this plan because it hoped that seats would fill up during the busy holiday season. Also, it feels confident that it can do this now because of the increase in knowledge about “the behavior of the virus,” Gary Kelley, chairman of the board and CEO of Southwest Airlines said in the statement.

Limiting the capacity helped passengers practice social distancing, but with the transition to normal capacity, the airline has promised to still notify customers when a flight has sold more than 65% of its seats, CNN reported.

Southwest Airlines and the airline industry as a whole have suffered from travel restrictions like “flight cancellations, potential quarantines upon arrival, and/or temperature checks upon landing,” according to Southwest Airlines’ website. These restrictions cause an inconvenience for some customers, which may have contributed to the decrease in sales.

Currently, there are also travel disruptions in about eight states, including New York. “The pandemic persists along with the negative effects on air travel demand,” Kelley said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order on Sept. 28, reminding international travelers coming from certain countries to quarantine and fill out the necessary travel and health form NYS Department of Health Traveler form upon arrival. Filling out this form helps with contact tracing and would apply to the international travelers from Level 2 and 3 countries.

In June 2020, LaGuardia Airport reported that Southwest Airlines saw about a 78.6% drop in passengers flying domestically. United and American Airlines have still suffered losses, even though they have had no capacity restriction for a few months.

Some have expressed frustration and concern over Southwest Airlines’ plan, saying that they will no longer fly with the airline and that the company is wrongfully putting profit first. One Twitter user wrote, “@SouthwestAir disappointed in you guys. I was choosing your airline above everyone else due to the middle seat being open. Guess I won’t be flying #SouthwestAirlines after Dec. way to put our safety over profits #shameful.”

Others are accepting of the decision and understand the financial hardship the company has experienced. “All the other airlines are selling the middle seat, so Southwest Airlines should be okay to do the same,” another user tweeted.

Southwest Airlines’ President Tom Nealon thinks that people will be upset just because they don’t like having many people on flights. “It will take time for passengers to warm up to the idea,” and that “travelers love the idea of an empty middle seat,” Nealon said to USA Today.

Southwest Airlines will still be maintaining its cleaning measures. All customers will have to wear masks and the aircrafts will be cleaned between flights and at night.

The air distribution system in the aircrafts also provides outdoor air and high-efficiency particulate air. The air is filtered into the cabin “every second while inflight,” and removes “99.97% of airborne particles,” Southwest Airlines’ website said.

Without high corporate travel or aid from Congress for airlines, Southwest Airlines may have to furlough and lay off workers soon, which it has not done yet. However, the workers have already suffered pay cuts.

Despite the measures, the carrier is still expected to continue losing millions everyday into 2021, CNN said. “Until we have widely-available vaccines and achieve herd immunity, we expect passenger traffic and booking trends to remain fragile,” Kelley said.

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