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Southwest Airlines cuts back on Covid-19 cleanings to speed up flight turnarounds

(CNN) — Southwest Airlines is throttling back on its passenger cabin cleaning procedures instituted because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The changes -- such as no longer sanitizing seat belts between flights -- will reduce the time aircraft spend on the ground between flights, the airline told flight attendants in a memo obtained by CNN. Deep overnight cleanings will continue.

"As our flight schedule evolves, we are returning to standard turnaround time," says the memo.

Focus on key items

Tray tables will continue to be cleaned between each flight, Southwest says.

Tray tables will continue to be cleaned between each flight, Southwest says.

Alaska Airlines

The Dallas-based airline explained the cleaning procedure between each flight will now "focus on a few items -- tray tables and lavatories."

Southwest spokeswoman Ro Hawthorne said crews would conduct a more thorough cleaning process once daily.

"Since flight schedules have increased, other areas of the aircraft will be disinfected during our overnight cleaning process, when Southwest Teams spend six to seven hours per aircraft cleaning all interior surfaces," Hawthorne said in a statement.

Back in March, the company rolled out an enhanced cleaning program that included "interior windows and shades, every seat belt buckle, passenger service units (including the touch buttons that control reading lights and vents that direct personal air), as well as seat surfaces, tray tables, [and] armrests."

Union reaction

The union representing Southwest flight attendants urged the company to help the "public to feel comfortable flying again."

"Southwest has been ahead of the industry in a lot of ways including electrostatic spraying, overnight deep cleaning and most recently requiring all passengers to wear face coverings with no exemptions," said Thom McDaniel, a representative with the Transport Workers Union.

"We will monitor this change and continue to advocate for best practices at every carrier for the safest possible air travel."

The airline says it will limit plane capacity through October 31 enough to allow for middle seats to sit empty.

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