Coronavirus: Southwest Airlines ending drink service on flights during COVID-19 outbreak

Southwest Airlines is suspending traditional drink service on its flights to limit interactions between flight attendants and passengers during the coronavirus crisis.

The new policy takes effect March 18 and is designed for the safety of customers and employees, Southwest spokesman Brian Parrish said.

On most flights, Southwest, the nation's largest domestic carrier, will offer only unopened cans of water to passengers requesting a drink. Southwest will still serve pretzels and, on longer flights, other packaged snacks.

Remember Southwest's peanuts? You can still buy some 

On short hops — dozens of Southwest flights under 250 miles including Atlanta-Nashville, Dallas-Houston and Los Angeles-Las Vegas — the airline won't serve any drinks or snacks so the crew can focus on other aspects of in-flight hygiene.

Travelers can still bring their own water and soft drinks as long as they purchase them or fill up at water stations post-security, of course.

Southwest Airlines is limiting drinks service to unopened cans of water on most flights to fight coronavirus.

Southwest initially only planned to makes change on the short flights, according to a memo sent to flight attendants Monday and obtained by USA TODAY. 

"Out of an abundance of caution we have chosen to  limit your touchpoints with customers on these very short flights allowing you more time to focus on good hand hygiene and any added trash service for the disposal of used cleaning wipes, tissues and other disposable items,'' Sonya Lacore, Southwest's vice president of in-flight operations, said in the memo.

The in-flight changes were broadened to cover all flights on Tuesday.

All major U.S. airlines have taken steps to protect crew and passenger health, including not refilling used cups and, in first class where available, not providing hot towels.

But Delta, United and American have so far not eliminated drink service.