Social Distancing in the Sky: Delta Will Block All Middle Seats Through September
Delta middle seat

Social Distancing in the Sky: Delta Will Block All Middle Seats Through September

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Delta announced Wednesday that it will block all middle seats on flights until September 30, extending its policy meant to make travelers feel safer with extra space through the entire summer travel season.

Delta began blocking middle seats April 13. But unlike other airlines, Delta has actually honored that promise by capping how many seats it will sell on each flight by selling only 60% of economy seats, 50% of first class, and 75% of Delta One seats. Delta previously planned to do so only through June 30, but extended that deadline on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, United Airlines also publicly promised it was “automatically blocking middle seats to give you enough space onboard,” but that wasn’t the case. The airline would merely stop passengers from selecting middle seats, but would still fill those seats if tickets kept selling.

Viral images of a sold-out United flight triggered an outcry last month, forcing United to clarify its policy and alert travelers if their upcoming flight was more than 70% full, allowing a free change or cancellation. American has implemented a similar policy

Of course, an empty middle seat may not actually do much good. That gives you 18 inches (or less) between your neighbor – not the six feet recommended by public health officials for social distancing.

But Delta knows that making travelers feel safe is the name of the game right now. So it’s positioning itself as the airline that cares most about safety, ensuring it avoids the same images of packed planes while other airlines have made empty promises.

So Delta is betting that these moves drive wary flyers to them – maybe even paying a bit more to feel safer in the sky. By extending how long it will block middle seats throughout the entire summer season, it appears that bet is working.

With travel slowly restarting, Delta has repeatedly said it will add more flights (or use bigger planes) throughout the summer to make sure it can continue giving passengers more space.

“We’ve got to keep those promises,” Delta’s chief financial officer Paul Jacobson said during an airline industry web conference last month.

Delta is also boarding planes from back to front to limit how much passengers pass each other. After halting automatic upgrades for flyers with Delta Medallion status, the airline says they will resume starting June 10.

Bottom Line

You can say goodbye to the middle seat on Delta – at least through the summer. Still, don’t expect this to last forever.

Planes are still fairly empty, so it’s a fairly easy thing for airlines to do to give travelers more confidence. And in Delta’s case, it’s a savvy move.

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6 Responses

  • Kyle, you wrote:

    “By blocking the dreaded middle seat at booking, Delta can more easily give the 6-foot gap between passengers that public health officials recommend.”

    How do you see that? If seat width is 18″, and pitch is 31″, you would need more than one row between people, and would need at the very least someone seated in seat A and seat E in a particular row.

    • Perhaps I should put some emphasis on “more easily.” Of course, if planes are full, this doesn’t do the trick. But planes are far from full so it’s largely a moot issue. Blocking middle seats just makes it even easier to make sure people are spreading out.

      • I agree. Last time I flew was SMF-DTW-MKE. 737-900 and a CRJ-900. First leg was maybe 30% full at the max, second leg was 20 people.

  • A few weeks ago Amtrak limited coach seats to 50% so now there are 2 in a row not 6 or more like in an airplane. Most trains are 2×2 seating on each side of the aisle. I love planes and trains. I also realize American trains are few and far between due to minimal subsidies compared to planes or autos. I may be wrong, but I also believe the air is fresher on any train compared to a plane. Boarding in jetways and in the aisles is another issue.
    I think the middle seat gone will help, but riders will need to cover their mouths as well- especially on an airplane. I do think it will help, but not solve the contagion issues.
    It sounds like the planes may be like pre-2000 where they were about 46% full on average to begin with at least.

  • Last week on 4 separate domestic AA flights, we selected seats with an AA agent that guides us to sit next to “blocked” seats… only to find out that they actually Sold the seats filling the planes to near capacity!

    So frustrating to pay for particular seats for a little “peace of mind” only to be let down. Thanks for nothing American.

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