Southwest to limit bookings to keep seats open through JulySouthwest to limit bookings to keep seats open through July
FILE PHOTO: A number of grounded Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft are shown parked at Victorville Airport in Victorville, California

By Tracy Rucinski

(Reuters) – Southwest Airlines Co will continue to limit bookings on its flights through at least July to give passengers space between seats, CEO Gary Kelly told shareholders on Thursday, mirroring a plan by competitor Delta Air Line In.

Social distancing on planes has become a topic of debate as airlines weigh safety measures to restore confidence in air travel that has collapsed during the coronavirus pandemic.

All major U.S. airlines have intensified aircraft cleaning measures and are requiring that passengers and crew wear facial coverings, among steps aimed at curbing the spread of infection, but their policies on social distancing on the plane differ.

“You won’t see full flights on Southwest at least through the end of July, and if we do have more demand for that flight we’ll add additional flights to meet demand,” Kelly said at its annual shareholders’ meeting, which was held virtually.

Airlines have slashed capacity and scrambled to raise cash to help them through the unprecedented crisis that is causing a daily cash burn.

Southwest currently has $13 billion cash in the bank that will carry it through at least 20 months at current blast rates, Kelly said, and likely many more months than that “because I do think things continue to improve.”

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Nick Zieminski)