Update, 6/26: American will match United’s policy of selling flights to 100% capacity as of July 1st. Passengers will be allowed to switch flights if they don’t want to fly on a full flight.
Update, 6/17: Southwest has matched Delta’s empty middle seat promise through September 30th, JetBlue and Hawaiian are now blocking middle seats through July 31st.
Originally posted on 6/3:
They accomplish that by selling just 60% of the economy seats, 50% of first class seats, and 75% of Delta One business class seats.
Delta also plans to add flights or switch to larger planes on routes that are filling up.
I’d expect face masks to be required for at least that period of time as well.
If you are traveling with family you can call the airline to sit in a middle seat, but I’d recommend just booking the aisle and window and enjoy the extra space.
Meanwhile American and United are making no such commitments. They are blocking middle seats on empty flights, but will happily and sell them to fill a flight. United says they will contact passengers on flights that are more than 70% full and allow them to change to another flight. You can always buy an extra seat if you want to guarantee an empty seat next to you by making the first name of the ticket EXTRASEAT with your last name. You’ll even get double your baggage allowance.
Airlines are in a catch-22 situation here. They need to sell about 80% of the seats on a plane to turn a profit, but people won’t fly and will make noise on social media if they don’t feel safe due to a full flight:
— Ethan Weiss (@ethanjweiss) May 9, 2020
Practically speaking, it’s impossible to truly social distance on a plane. Even with a blocked middle seat, you will be less than 6 feet away from people all around you. But it does make a physiological difference and Delta, JetBlue, and Southwest are betting that you will reward them for their empty middle seat promises.
Those airlines are also likely hoping to get lasting goodwill from passengers remembering that they tried to keep them safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.