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Southwest to no longer disinfect seat belts, armrests before every flight

Southwest Airlines said high-touch areas like bathrooms and tray tables will continue to be disinfected before every flight.

As more flights are added to the daily schedule, Southwest Airlines plans to scale back some of its aircraft-cleaning procedures in-between flights. 

As of Aug. 1, the airline has shifted the cleaning focus between flights to high-touch areas like bathrooms and tray tables.

Armrests and seat belts won't be wiped down between each flight and will instead be deep-cleaned during enhanced overnight cleaning of each plane. Sanitizing wipes will be available for Southwest passengers onboard to wipe down any surfaces they'd like, upon request. 

The change was announced in a memo to flight flight attendants, obtained by USA TODAY on Monday. 

In a statement, the airline confirmed the changes and said it has been implementing new initiatives and evolving its processes since the coronavirus pandemic began. 

"As our operations continue to increase, we are now optimizing our pre-departure cleaning processes and shifting some areas to be disinfected during our overnight cleaning process, when Southwest Teams spend six to seven hours per aircraft cleaning all interior surfaces," Southwest said. 

During overnight cleaning, the airline said it deep cleans each plane from nose to trail including seat belt buckles, tray tables, air vents, arm rests, galleys, bathrooms and more. 

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Each plane also undergoes an electrostatic spraying, at least once a month, that's designed to kill viruses on contact and form an "anti-microbial coating for 30 days," according to Southwest. 

Meanwhile, Southwest has committed to keeping middle seats open on its flights through at least Oct. 31 to help with social distancing. 

Credit: AP
People walk to a gate to board a Southwest Airlines flight to Orlando, Fla. Sunday, May 24, 2020 at Kansas City International airport in Kansas City, Mo.