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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.
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.
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'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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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