Delta extends middle seat blocks into January 2021

Category: Transportation

Delta extends middle seat blocks into January 2021
Delta extends protocol to block the selection of middle seats and limit the number of customers per flight for the holiday season

Dawn Gilbertson - USA TODAY - August 20, 2020

Delta Air Lines is living up to CEO Ed Bastian's promise that it will keep middle seats open beyond September in the name of in-fight social distancing but that doesn't mean passengers will have as much room as they've enjoyed all summer.

In Delta's latest coronavirus safety policy, updated Thursday, the airline commits to blocking middle seat assignments for most passengers through Jan. 6, a period that covers the usually busy holiday travel season.

At the same time, though, Delta said it is increasing the maximum number of passengers it will put on each flight beginning Oct. 1. The airline isn't filling each flight if demand is strong, but will cap capacity at 75% percent in the main cabin, up from 60% all summer, through Oct. 31. The policy will be reviewed again ahead of that date.

The date is notable because Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines, two major Delta competitors, have committed to continuing less full flights through Oct. 31, and JetBlue Airways' policy goes through Oct. 15.

“We believe that taking care of our customers and employees and restoring confidence in the safety of air travel is more important right now than filling up every seat on a plane,'' Delta Chief Customer Experience Officer Bill Lentsch said in a statement. "We’ll continue taking a thoughtful, layered approach ensuring customers know to expect the highest standard of care as they prepare for their holiday travels.”

A Delta Air Lines plane taking off

With the extension, Delta has committed to blocking middle seats longer than any of its competitors.

American and United, among others, aren't limiting seat sales, though low travel demand means many flights aren't full. U.S. airlines filled about 48% of their seats last week, compared with 87% a year ago, according to industry trade group Airlines for America. And the number will likely go down as summer ends because there is little business travel expected this fall.

A United executive has criticized airline seat blocking policies as a marketing ploy.

“Blocking middle seats is a PR strategy, not a safety strategy,’’ Chief Communications Officer Josh Earnest said in July.

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