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Southwest to limit seats sold on each flight through July - CEO

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FILE PHOTO: A number of grounded Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft are shown parked at Victorville Airport in Victorville, California
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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 Lines Inc.

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.

"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.

Delta also plans to continue limiting the number of passengers on each flight through at least July, people told Reuters this week.

Airlines have been operating about 90% fewer flights than normal but are gradually adding flights back to their schedules as demand begins picking up.

Southwest said on Tuesday it recorded positive bookings on a net basis so far this month as passenger reservations outpaced trip cancellations, helping the company slow its cash burn rate.

The company 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."

Southwest's June capacity will be roughly half its schedule a year ago - an improvement from a 60% to 70% reduction in May.

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

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