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As the coronavirus pandemic began, several airlines started blocking middles seats to aid customers in social distancing. Now, this popular policy is quickly coming to an end. Southwest, Hawaiian, Alaska, and JetBlue have all ended seat blocking policies since December 1, 2020.
But, there's one holdout that's still blocking seats: Delta.
With the number of travelers climbing back toward 1 million passengers per day, it's more important than ever to know which airlines are offering policies you're comfortable with. To help keep you informed, we rounded up all the airlines that blocked seats — and we've updated this list as most airlines have phased out these policies.
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 wonders 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.
Unfortunately for passengers, most of these airlines have given in and ended their policies. Southwest boasted making an additional $80 million in December thanks to its decision to fill flights as of December 1.
Delta is the one airline that's continuing to double-down on its seat blocking policy. And it just extended this policy for another month.
The One Airline Still Blocking Seats
There is currently just one major U.S. airline that continues to block middle seats:
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 just announced an extension to these policies through at least April 30, 2021.
JetBlue [ended January 7, 2021]
JetBlue vowed to limit flight capacities to 70% or less through January 7, 2021. However, this policy wasn't extended. If you want more space, the airline provides guidelines for how to book extra seats.
Alaska [ended January 6, 2021]
Alaska's policy has been to block middle seats for all — except large families traveling together. The airline continued this policy through January 6, 2021. However, it began filling planes to capacity once again on January 7, 2021.
Hawaiian [ended December 15, 2020]
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 stopped blocking middle seats on December 15, 2020.
Southwest [ended December 1, 2020]
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. Unfortunately, the airline disappointed fans in late October by announcing that it would end this policy before the holiday season. As of December 1, 2020, Southwest once again is selling flights to capacity.
There were five major U.S. airlines that limited the number of people on-board any one flight. With Southwest, Hawaiian, Alaska, and JetBlue filling planes once again, there's just one airline still maintaining a capacity cap on flights. And Delta's policy has just been extended for another month.
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'm glad that Delta continues to extend this customer-friendly policy.
How do you feel about airlines blocking middle seats?
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