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December 02, 2020

Southwest Airlines no longer limiting capacity on flights

Airline will notify passengers if their upcoming flight has more than 65% capacity sold

Travel Airlines
07_052418_Stock_Carroll.original.jpg Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Southwest Airlines announced it will sell every seat on its flights starting Dec. 1.

Southwest Airlines will sell tickets for all seats on its flights starting Dec. 1, making social distancing not possible.

The airline made the call months ago alongside an announcement that it lost $1.2 billion in its third-quarter because of the pandemic, according to a press release.

"This practice of effectively keeping middle seats open bridged us from the early days of the pandemic, when we had little knowledge about the behavior of the virus, to now," Southwest said in the release. "Today, aligned with science-based findings from trusted medical and aviation organizations, we will resume selling all available seats for travel beginning December 1, 2020."

Unlike other airlines that blocked out the middle seat in its aircrafts, Southwest limited the capacity of its planes and would spread out passengers during the boarding process. Southwest has open seating on its flights.

The airline said it will notify passengers of their upcoming flight if there is more than 65% capacity sold.

As the holidays approach, many Americans are wondering if it's safe to fly at all. A study from Harvard researchers, which simulated disease transmission on an airplane, showed that the risk of in-flight COVID-19 transmission was "below that of other routine activities during the pandemic, such as grocery shopping or eating out," — assuming every passenger is masked and the air filtration system is functioning correctly.

Another study from the Department of Defense found that someone would need to sit on an airplane for 54 hours straight to catch COVID-19 from another passenger.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends avoiding travel and cautions a lack of social distancing on airplanes. 

"Air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces," according to the CDC. "Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes. However, keeping your distance is difficult on crowded flights, and sitting within 6 feet of others, sometimes for hours, may increase your risk of getting COVID-19."

PhillyVoice reached out to a Southwest spokesperson and did not receive comment in time for publication.