Delta Air Lines will continue blocking middle seats on all its flights until at least early January 2021, the airline confirmed on Thursday, extending the policy meant to give passengers more space onboard another three months.
Delta has made blocking middle seats the cornerstone of its coronavirus playbook, using that extra space and enhanced cleaning procedures to try to convince travelers it’s safer to fly with Delta than its competitors. That policy started in mid-April and was set to lapse at the end of September.
But Delta is extending that through the entire holiday season until at least Jan. 6. The Points Guy first reported the news – including a suggestion from CEO Ed Bastian that Delta may extend that policy beyond that date.
At the same time, Delta is also tweaking its seat-blocking policies so that planes may start to get a bit more full, while still keeping most middle seats empty.
“Medical experts, including our own partners at Emory Healthcare, agree – more distance on board makes a difference,” Bill Lentsch, Delta’s chief customer experience officer, said in a statement. “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.”
Drilling into Delta’s Decision
Delta is one of just a handful of airlines currently blocking middle seats to give passengers more room onboard.
It’s a temporary measure at a time when concerns about safety are paramount – and it’s an easy move to make when few Americans are traveling. Others like Southwest have recently extended their seat-blocking policies through October.
But Delta is going even farther by promising to keep middle seats open until early January. It’s a sign that the airline doesn’t expect air travel to return to normal anytime soon. And until it does, giving passengers that peace of mind that they won’t have a stranger seated next to them.
Since the coronavirus pandemic upended travel, Delta has tried to position itself as the airline that cares most about safety. It’s betting that making passengers feel safer is the key to winning more flyers.
“This is a time when customers are not always trying to find … the cheapest price, but who’s going to get them there in the most reliable, safe manner,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in a Milken Institute podcast interview explaining the decision to block seats.
And post-flight surveys show it’s effective, as Delta’s Net Promoter Scores have surged since the spring largely due to cleaning and social distancing onboard.
Changes to the Seat Caps
While Delta will continue blocking middle seats into the winter, the airline is tweaking some of its policies.
Rather than capping ticket sales in economy and Comfort Plus at 60%, Delta will begin selling 75% of seats. That will allow families to more easily occupy a whole row together, putting more people on each flight while still honoring the commitment to keep middle seats open between strangers.
And starting Oct. 1, Delta will begin selling Delta One business class cabins on widebody jets to capacity. Domestic first class will still be capped at 50% through at least October.
This is a big, bold move from Delta – and yet it’s not a surprise. Delta has continually led the way among major U.S. airlines with customer-friendly moves. And it has tried to position itself as the airline that puts passenger safety above all else.