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
— Ethan Weiss (@ethanjweiss) May 9, 2020
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.
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.