Here's When Airlines Will Stop Blocking Middle Seats

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As the coronavirus pandemic began, several airlines started blocking middles seats to aid customers in social distancing. Now, it seems that this popular policy is quickly coming to an end — with one airline planning to fill flights once again starting December 1.

With the number of travelers slowly increasing and the third wave of the pandemic well underway, it's more important than ever to know which airlines are offering policies you're comfortable with. To make things easier, we've rounded up all the airlines still blocking seats with up-to-date information on how long it'll last.

JetBlue has been blocking middle seats

Should Airlines Block Middle Seats?

Among all of the COVID-era policies that we've seen airlines adopt, perhaps the most controversial is the practice of blocking middle seats. While having additional space does wonder for passenger comfort, different airlines have differing viewpoints on such a policy's value.

On the one hand, you have airlines like United, American, and Spirit. Despite claims of exceptional attention to customer safety, these airlines resumed selling every seat as soon as they could fill every seat. The claim: social distancing on airplanes is a lost cause. So, with airlines suffering record losses, these airlines determined that filling every possible seat would deliver maximum profits in a markedly unprofitable era.

Then there's Delta, Southwest, JetBlue, and Alaska. This group recognized that most travelers feel uncomfortable sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers in the middle of a pandemic. So, in a risky move, they opted to block middle seats on every flight. In doing so, they gambled short-term profits hoping that their customer-friendly policies would incite greater customer loyalty.

The jury's still out on the effectiveness of this, medically or fiscally. In an AwardWallet analysis of travel patterns, we found that airlines that have been blocking middle seats haven't been doing much better. But there is certainly no doubt that overall, passengers feel much more comfortable with more space.

Cleaning and blocking middle seats help reduce the risk of infection, but we can't be sure how much

The Five Airlines Still Blocking Seats

There are currently five major U.S. airlines that continue to block middle seats. All five have unique timelines on when how long they'll continue to do so.

Alaska

Alaska's policy has been to block middle seats for all — except large families traveling together. The airline pledged to continue doing so through at least January 6, 2021.

Delta

For the last several months, Delta's policy involved blocking middle seats for single passengers and pairs. Moreover, as one of the loudest proponents of mask-use and social distancing while traveling, Delta has announced an extension to these policies through at least March 30, 2021.

Hawaiian

Hawaii has only recently reopened for tourists, meaning most of Hawaiian Airlines' routes haven't operated for some time. Now that schedules are reopening, the airline has announced that it will continue blocking middle seats through December 15, 2021.

JetBlue

While JetBlue no longer blocks middle seats, the airline vows to limit flight capacities to 70% or less through January 7, 2021. Moreover, the airline provides guidelines for how to book extra seats if you desire more space.

Southwest

With the onset of COVID-19, Southwest suddenly found itself the largest airline in the world by the number of seats. It was also one of the first airlines to start blocking middle seats. Now, the airline has announced a surprising end to this popular policy before the holiday season. Starting December 1, 2020, Southwest will no longer maintain an artificial passenger cap or block middle seats.

Bottom Line

There are still five major U.S. airlines that limit the number of people onboard any one flight. However, only Delta has pledged to block middle seats beyond January 2021. The earliest of these, Southwest, will reopen middle seats again on December 1, 2020.

In general, I've felt far more comfortable booking flights with airlines blocking middle seats over those that weren't. While studies show that the risk of contracting COVID-19 on an airplane is relatively low, the extra space simply made me feel more comfortable. So, barring a total turnaround to the current health crisis, I genuinely hope the remaining airlines reconsider ending this customer-friendly policy.

How do you feel about airlines blocking middle seats?

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Comments

  • Avatar
    Alejandro Sosa says:

    It really is an article that focuses on the most important current dilemma. What do we prioritize, health or the economy?

    If we analyze it objectively, the airlines are being threatened, due to the lower number of passengers, which makes their revenues decrease notoriously.

    From a health point of view, social distancing is recommended by scientists, although I do not see that this is really possible, especially on intercontinental flights, since a lot of time is spent in closed environments.

    I applaud those five companies that bet on the safety of their passengers, but I recognize that the balance point between economy and health is difficult to achieve.

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    Contrary to what might be expected from common sense, the COVID-19 transmission risk posed by traveling by plane is minimal, as the cabin air is circulated constantly through the high-efficiency particulate arrestence (HEPA) filters, whose diffusion mechanism remove more than 99.97% of particles smaller than .3μm (a SARS-CoV-2 virion is less than 200nm), well within the HEPA effective range). IATA in fact reports only 44 cases of inflight transmission worldwide. And while every case is a tragedy, this needs to be balanced against the fact that flying airplanes with middle seats blocked off becomes economically prohibitive. While it definitely no longer feels right to be sitting next to a stranger for hours in this day and age, government policy and regulation must be informed by reason and data, and not by feelings.

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    I think it´s too early to stop blocking the middle seats on airlines. With the exception of family groups, middle seats should continue to be unused until the vaccines are available for everyone. It´s not enough the negative PCR nor the masks as people will continue to be scared of a possible contact with someone ill. In Argentina we are vigorously waiting for tourist flights to be open again but still we are scare to fly 🙂

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    I think that the bloking middle seats rules should be periodically reviewed. Although I don’t think it’s effective, a lot off people feel safe.

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    Does anybody know if the situation is different on international flights?

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    It seems like it’s more of a mindset issue — whether someone feels safer, flying or not. But then again, the people that don’t feel safe probably wouldn’t get on an airplane anyways, other than for an extraordinary circumstance

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    I feel much safer with no one in the middle seat. Middle seats should continue to be blocked until cases go down.

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    nice list, thanks for taking the time to compile this

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    Javier R Buzzalino says:

    I don’t agree to unstopping blocking the middle seat. You need to keep distance. StaySafe!

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    Juan Ignacio says:

    It is a difficult choice for airlines. In my opinion ig everybody is wearing a face mask and negative PCR it is Safe to travel

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    As airplanes are usually not full in this period.
    Putting together only family and people who travel in the same group I don’t think it would be too difficult to satisfy this requirement.

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    In my opinion, if vaccines aren’t widely available yet, airlines should not stop blocking middle seat. They’re looking at profit over people and that is sad.

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      Do you really think having someone three feet away vs 1.5 feet away is really going to make much of a difference? If you don’t feel comfortable, speak with your wallet and don’t fly. All of life is economics: supply and demand.

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    This is always a hard one for the airlines, on one side they are in business to make money but blocking seats doesn’t help with that (and people will still go for the cheapest fare available). I never thought i’ll say this but maybe other airlines should do what Frontier is doing. You can pay extra for a seat where the middle seat is blocked. That way, folks who just want it cheap will likely end up sitting next to each other while folks who prefer to have the middle seat empty will have to pay a bit extra.

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    IGNACIO MEDINA says:

    It seems a nonsense. Many European and South-American airlines are dispatching packed flights without any special consideration but from wearing face masks.

    IATA released some papers in which was clearly stated that the odds of geetting Coronavirus on a plane are minimal.

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    I can’t wait until people start getting vaccinated and we don’t have to feel as uneasy traveling on crowded planes.

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    I think these policies will be continued given the rise in cases. Since passenger traffic will likely fall (outside of the holidays perhaps), they will do it for optics if nothing else.

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    Good for my number one airline, Delta for continuing to go the extra mile. Having recently purchased a ticket (actually had to repurchase twice–hopefully no more changes), it does cost a little more, but is well worth the extra level of safety!!!

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    I have been flying United airlines and American Airlines and the flights have been approximately 90% full. I have not found it worthwhile to pay extra money for the Delta flights from Chicago to Florida.

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    I don’t know if reducing the number off passengers gives more security. Test them before the trip must be mandatory. Whe have a lot of time ahead of us before we solve the pandemic….

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    In Canada, airlines stopped doing that months ago.

    While I likely won’t be flying for a while, I understand that these businesses need to make money. If you don’t want to sit beside someone on the plane, don’t fly.

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    I have been flying throughout the pandemic due to being a travel physician (Locum Tenens). I fly mostly American but I have also flown on Delta and Alaska. Of course I appreciate the middle seats being open but I have flown on many occasions on full flights. One question to ask is: “In cases where the infection was contracted on an aircraft, were there more cases on a flight with blocked middle seats than one without?” I’m not sure enough data exists on cases contracted on aircraft to be able to draw conclusions.

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      Yes; I’d like to see such data, too. Of course, if forced to fly before a safe vaccine were widely distributed, I’d feel more comfortable with the middle seats blocked, especially having had the misfortune to have flown cheek to jowl in the past with people coughing and sneezing w/o covering their mouths.

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      I think your speculation is accurate however in the sense of population density. The extra foot of space between you and the next person does nothing but now there are roughly 1/3 fewer people on a flight which both reduces the potential number of sick people and how many people they will co.e into contact with.

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    If the government isn’t paying for the middle seats on planes and there is the demand at the end of the day it’s a business and they need to sell the seats.

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    I understand from the money stand point of blocking the center seat and I don’t know if it’ll make a big difference. I think the majority of people will still go for the fare. Yes we all want to feel safer but what will win, price or feeling safer with people more? Also, if after all this time with the pandemic will people just want to go somewhere and not really care too much about safety?

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    If I had a choice to fly on a plane that had a blocked middle seat or one that didn’t I’d definitely choose the one with the blocked middle seat. Thankyou for highlighting the airlines that are still blocking the middle seat.

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    Thanks for the info. I’d definitely prefer to fly with a blocked middle seat. It would give peace of mind that we were observing social distancing even on a plane.

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    It will interesting to see if they extend the dates as get closer

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    I wonder how effective an empty middle seat is in a tiny regional cabin.

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    I cannot wait for things to return to normal again.

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    Blocking the middle seat does nothing in terms of spacing. All it does (which I shouldn’t say “all” because it does help) is limit the number of bodies on a plane. Fewer people does limit the odds of someone sick boarding and just the same limits the number of people who could get infected. So overall probably a good thing but the airline staying in business is also necessary.

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    I’m completely against the unblock middle seats policy. I think the most important thing is travelers safety, whether airlines are having more profits or not. Social distancing is essential to stop the virus. Seeing the big picture, the best thing could happen to airlines is COVID 19 to disappear, so as to the world be back to normal and people can travel as usual again.

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    Flying isn’t as big a concern to me. The airports are another story.

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    Patrick Ellis says:

    We’ve only done one round trip (4 flights) since the pandemic started. We made a point to fly on Delta because of their COVID-19 policies. We didn’t even consider other airlines and didn’t care about any cost differential.

    Delta’s commitment to making flying as safe as possible during a pandemic bought a tremendous amount of loyalty with us, while United & American will henceforth be airlines we avoid because they clearly didn’t give a damn about passenger safety. We’ve got a ton of American miles, which we’ll use only on partner airlines (Hello Tahiti and/or Fiji!). I also appreciate that Southwest, JetBlue, & Alaska made good efforts as well, but they don’t fly many of the places we go. And we were just really impressed with Delta’s attention to safety details at check-in, boarding, and on our flights.

    We typically take around five trips a year, roughly three domestic and two international. So we’re not going to make or break any of these airlines, but we’ll fly Delta when at all possible, and we’ll even happily pay a premium if needed.

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    We’re all having such a difficult time dealing with the financial consequences during this pandemic and it does not show any added risk from filling the seats why would we expect the airlines to block the middle seats for our comfort?