Southwest Airlines updates COVID-19 policies, extends middle seat blocking through November

Travelers on Southwest Airlines will still be able to practice social distancing onboard Thanksgiving holiday flights.

“Our goal has been to put forward procedures and policies that we know, ultimately, will bring added comfort in flying by giving our customers an assurance that we’re focused on an environment that fosters wellness,” a spokesperson with Southwest Airlines told FOX TV Stations.

Southwest evaluated its policies and procedures based on “science and evolved guidance from the CDC and broader medical community,” Ryan Green, SVP & chief marketing officer, said in a recent press release.

The airline will continue to have extra space onboard, keeping middle seats open through Nov. 30. “We hope this provides peace of mind as you plan your travel this autumn and through Thanksgiving. Of course, if you are traveling with your family or others, you can still sit together. Otherwise, middle seats will be open,” Green wrote.

RELATED: Delta bans nearly 250 people from flying on its planes for refusing to wear masks

Face coverings will still be required for passengers 2 years of age and older while checking in, boarding, during the flight and at baggage claim.

Green said that the company will provide fresh air on board, doing a complete exchange of air every two to three minutes while flying with an air re-circulation system which introduces outdoor air into the cabin every second while in flight. “This is similar to technology found in hospitals and operating rooms,” Green said.

Other updates will include a multi-layered cleaning program to disinfect the aircraft, ticket counters, gates and baggage claim areas.

“As with our requirement that every person onboard Southwest aged two or older travel with their face covered throughout their journey, or with round-the-clock cleaning in our airport spaces, on every airplane, and between flights every time, our commitment to operate all flights with Middle Seats Open from early May through the Thanksgiving period is about outlining an expectation and ensuring it,” Southwest’s spokesperson said.

RELATED: American Airlines to resume full-capacity flights starting July 1 amid coronavirus pandemic

Delta and Southwest are two airlines which continue to block middle seats and have greater restrictions on airline capacity in a bid to provide some measure of social distancing for passengers.

Delta extended its middle seat blocking policy through the holiday and winter season, blocking the selection of middle seats and limiting the number of customers per flight through at least Jan. 6, 2021.

In August, Delta Air Lines placed more than 240 people on a “no fly list” for failing to comply with its mandatory mask policy. “Although rare, we continue to put passengers who refuse to follow the required face-covering rules on our no-fly list,” Delta’s CEO Ed Bastian said in the memo.

Other airlines including American Airlines started booking flights to capacity on July 1. The planned increase allowed middle seats to be available for purchase.

"American continues to sell middle seats as we provide critical air service for those who need to travel now," a spokesperson with American Airlines told Fox TV Stations. "On an aircraft, social distancing is not viable. Even if middle seats are blocked, passengers are not six feet from the person across the aisle or the person seated in front or behind them."

Instead, American says the airline is focued on other efforts to make the travel journey as safe as possible. "We have multiple measures in place through our Clean Commitment to care for the safety and well-being of our customers and team members," American's spokesperson said.

Southwest’s policy updates comes as experts say there could be spikes in coronavirus cases heading into cooler months.

The University of Washington’s Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) predicted an estimated 30,000 deaths from COVID-19 could occur each day in the Northern Hemisphere as winter falls.

According to IHME, part of the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, nearly 770,000 lives worldwide could be saved between now and Jan. 1 through coronavirus preventive measures suggested by the CDC, including mask-wearing and social distancing.