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Major U.S. Airlines Returning To Normal Passenger Boarding

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The aviation industry, much like the rest of the world, has been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. Carriers were forced to cut jobs, reduce frequencies, and impose substantial restraints on travel. More than a year later, some form of normalcy has been restored, at least when it comes to boarding flights.

United airlines planes

In a bid to comply with health and safety requirements, airlines stood firm in implementing stringent control measures such as social distancing, limited access, and boarding back to front. At the same time, airlines enhanced sanitation standards, electrostatic spraying between flights, and revised boarding procedures.

Mid-March, following the initiation of a rapid vaccine campaign, domestic travel in the U.S. began showing signs of recovery. TSA checkpoint data recorded pandemic-era highs. In effect, airlines added new routes in response to the returning demand.

Seeing that Americans are regaining confidence in air travel, coupled with the low risk of contagion on airplanes due to high-quality air filtration systems and safety measures, three major U.S. airlines have resumed pre-pandemic boarding procedures. 

Southwest Airlines plane

Southwest Airlines

Dismissing its pandemic-induced boarding policies, Southwest has returned to its normal boarding practice. Rather than boarding passengers in groups of ten, as it had been doing since May for the purpose of social distancing, the Dallas-based carrier will resume boarding groups of 30. 

traveler boarding flight mask

“The majority of our customers are familiar with Southwest’s standard boarding style and have an expectation for the normal boarding process as they return to travel,” Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King said in a statement.

While the airline has received a mixed response from its customers, it ensures that health and safety will not be comprised as a result of this decision. Accordingly, King mentioned that the mandatory face-masks policy is still in effect at airports and on flights, ensuring that prevention protocols will remain intact.

Credit: SouthwestAir Twitter

United Airlines

Following suit, United has let go of its pandemic policy boarding. As of April 15, the major U.S. airline reinstated its practice of boarding passengers onto the aircraft from front to back. For most of 2020, United had been boarding passengers in reverse order in an effort to enhance social distancing. 

United Airlines Hawaii

Meanwhile, United offers a number of initiatives to raise travelers’ confidence, including the United app, which offers contactless travel assistance, and the United CleanPlus℠ program with its partnership with Clorox. The airline is committed to offering “safety and cleanliness at the forefront of its travel experience.”

JetBlue aircrafts in New York


Airline JetBlue initiated the trend as it reassessed its pandemic-era flight boarding policy in March. Similar to United, the carrier had been boarding passengers in small groups starting from the back of the aircraft to promote physical distancing. While returning to its traditional boarding process, Jetblue is reassuring the prioritized safety of its passengers.  

sanitizing airplane

“At JetBlue we have promised to continue to evolve our Safety from the Ground Up program as we understand more about the coronavirus,” a representative for the airline told The Points Guy. “We continue to work within public health guidelines and take clinical guidance from [our] own medical experts to ensure we are doing everything we can to keep our customers and crewmembers safe in this next phase of our ‘new normal.' 

With these resources as our guides, we are returning to our grouped boarding process. It has become clear that mandatory face mask use and the hospital-grade air filtration on board every JetBlue aircraft are the keys to greatly reducing the risk on board, lower than other public settings. We will continue to disinfect commonly touched surfaces, offer sanitizer and wipes to customers, and remain focused on keeping our crewmembers healthy through safety protocols and screening.”

passenger on flight wearing mask

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Larry Webb

Friday 16th of April 2021

I feel like boarding from the rear to the front should be kept in place. People boarding from the front first always get bumped and bothered as passengers walk by them on their way to the back. I thought airlines had finally wised up. Fooled again!