The Guide to Southwest COVID Policies

As with all airlines, Southwest has seen significant shifts in its policies over the past two years.
Alisha McDarris
By Alisha McDarris 

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Note: This article is no longer being updated due to the general loosening of COVID safety policies across domestic airlines. For more information on flying Southwest, check out our complete guide here.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been dozens of changes regarding how we travel. Interest in travel insurance is up, empty seats between passengers were briefly instituted before overbooked flights were once again the norm, and staff shortages and spikes in cases have continuously proven difficult for airlines and travelers alike.

So with all the constant updates and changes, what are current travel guidelines? To help you navigate travel during a pandemic, here’s an overview of the current Southwest Airlines COVID policy so you know what to expect the next time you fly.

Does Southwest require a COVID test before flying?

For starters, Southwest Airlines COVID rules state that if you’re flying domestically within the U.S., you don’t need proof of a negative COVID-19 test before boarding. If you’re flying to the U.S. from an international destination, however, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's rules, you will need proof of a negative test taken within 24 hours of your flight. That goes for everyone over the age of 2, whether you’re fully vaccinated or not.

Alternatively, you can show proof of recovery if you've had the virus in the last  90 days.

If you’re flying from the U.S. to an international destination, you’ll have to check the local restrictions and requirements where you’ll be landing, as many of Southwest’s destinations require either a negative test taken within one day prior to your arrival or a quarantine once you land.

Recent changes to COVID policies

A lot has changed over the past two years, and airline regulations are no different. Here’s what Southwest COVID policies have been implemented or changed since the pandemic began:

March 2020

  • Beverage and food service is temporarily suspended on Southwest flights.

  • Expiration dates for unused travel funds from canceled flights are extended.

  • Flight capacity is reduced.

  • Southwest implements an enhanced aircraft cleaning program.

April 2020

  • Southwest extends status for A-List and A-List Preferred members and offers a boost toward status for regular Rapid Rewards members.

  • Southwest further extends the expiration date for unused travel funds and credits.

May 2020

  • Southwest employees are required to wear face masks.

  • All passengers are required to wear face masks.

  • The number of passengers on board is limited.

  • Plexiglas barriers are installed at ticket counters, gate podiums and baggage service offices.

June 2020

  • Southwest implements boarding in groups of 10 to allow for distancing and forms only one line at a time.

  • Added signage and floor markers in gate areas encourage distancing.

  • The promise of open middle seats is extended until Sept. 30.

  • Masks are provided for customers.

  • Hand sanitizer is widely available within the airport.

September 2020

  • The promise to keep middle seats open is extended through November.

One thing that did stay the same over the last two years: Southwest has never charged flight change or cancel fees, unlike many airlines, and your first and second checked bags still fly free.

How flying Southwest has changed recently

Naturally, all these changes have altered what it’s like to fly with Southwest, though the experience is largely back to normal:

  • Flights are once again booked at full capacity.

  • Beverage service has been reinstated.

  • Boarding has returned to pre-pandemic procedures (passengers board by zone in groups of 30 and still choose their own seats).

There are, however, a few COVID policies still in place:

  • Masks are required to be worn by all passengers and employees in airports and for the duration of your flight.

  • Negative COVID-19 tests are required for travel into the U.S. and to many international destinations.

How air travel, in general, has changed

Of course, it’s not just the experience of flying with Southwest that has changed since spring 2020; flying in general is a very different experience than it used to be.

For example, touchpoints and employee-customer interactions have been reduced throughout many airports as passengers are encouraged to use digital boarding passes, and check in and tag their own luggage. Plus, masks on any form of public transportation, including in airports and on planes, is federally mandated.

Vaccines, negative tests or quarantines are not only recommended but required in many destinations. Flight cancellations have been on a roller coaster ride as COVID spikes cause employee shortages. And the overall number of passengers is steadily increasing to pre-pandemic levels amid it all. To be sure, the pandemic has likely changed air travel for good.

Other important tips

If you’re traveling by air, with Southwest or any other airline, here are a few additional things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t travel if you feel sick or had a close contact with COVID-19 in the last five days.

  • Make sure you know what the travel restrictions are in your intended destination, but also for your return trip.

  • Wear a proper face mask (not a bandana or vented mask) over your nose and mouth at all times.

  • Consider purchasing travel insurance or signing up for a credit card that offers travel insurance in case you have to cancel travel plans, including flights, hotels and more.

Flying Southwest in the COVID era

In the ever-changing landscape that is air travel during a global pandemic, there have been plenty of ups and downs, but Southwest’s COVID policies strive to offer both increased safety and peace of mind to passengers, no matter where they’re headed.

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