The Only Airline That's Still 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, 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.

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 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.

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

The One Airline Still Blocking Seats

There is currently just one major U.S. airline that continues to block middle seats:

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 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.

Bottom Line

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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Comments

  • Avatar

    I normally fly 2-4 times a year, but I have not done so since February 2020 due to the pandemic. I have been vaccinated, as has my family, but I am not likely to fly again any time soon except on Delta, to their policy. In truth, my family and I would not need the blocked middle seat for all of us, as my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter can all sit together, but my husband and I would not want to sit next to a stranger so close together on a flight.

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    The seat blocking issue is such an unpleasant twist on the constant shrinkage of passenger space over the past few decades. I vaguely remember how I used to be able to sit in the economy section without having to have constant physical contact with strangers through a whole flight, for example. It’s disappointing that this way of making air travel just a little more bearable during a pandemic was so short-lived. I mean it’s not like the virus is getting less risky or transmissible, and you’re not helping keep your customers alive long-term by ditching this. I can’t imagine flying anywhere until we have a critical mass reached in vaccinations.

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    Good for Delta! I’m not sure how long they’ll continue to be able to do this but it certainly buys them goodwill for now.

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    Juan Ignacio says:

    DL is the only airline who puts people’s health above profits, yes even in a crisis situation.

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    With the standard being stay 6 feet apart, all airline should block the middle seats. Even passengers sitting on both isle seats are too close. Restaurants are forced to keep tables 6 feet apart and limited to 25% or 50% capacity, so should airlines.

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    Miguel Angel Baltanas says:

    US airlines should block middle seats until most of the world population gets vaccinated. Otherwise, passengers health (surely oversears passengers…) will be compromised. One should not forget that vaccinated people can (and are) transmit the disease, as their merele become healthy carriers of the SARS-COV-2 virus. In the meantime, Cheers to Delta … and please take due notice, you CEOs of the remaining airlines.

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    I would say that with the way things are going, it would be better if they can continue to block the middle seat.

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    So Delta is the only airline that puts people lives above profits .

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    Blocked middle seats also put Basic Economy fares in play. I’ll book the cheap fare with no seat selection when there’s no risk of getting stuck in the middle. Thank you, Delta.

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    Damian Hidalgo says:

    I would feel safer if the airlines blocked middel seats. I’ve recently flew in my country and I was very uncomfortable with people around so close given not everyone uses the facemask correctly.

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    All airlines should continue to do this until the vaccine has been administered to all people.

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    Has the travel demand returned to such an extent that it not possible to leave the middle seat empty on a voluntary basis anymore?

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    While blocking the middle seat seems like a good idea, I imagine that people who are comfortable flying on a plane right now would be comfortable with or without that seat blocked. After all, you’re still just a couple feet away from the people in the rows in front of and behind you. I don’t blame the airlines for watching their budgets.

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    Shame that there is only one airline left with this policy

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    Amazing that Delta is still able to block middle seats!

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    I have chosen Delta every time over United because they don’t cram everyone on a flight. On United, I’m sitting closer to a stranger than I would be next to a family member at home.

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    Just flew Delta and I appreciated the fact that Delta still had the middle seats blocked. It was my first time in the air since the pandemic started and I felt that Delta really went above and beyond to help keep their customers safe. I think Delta will lead the way to consumer confidence by continuing to implement these policies. Way to go, Delta!

  • Avatar

    Airlines blocking middle seats serve to boost confidence that they actually care about their passengers. I will not book with ones which never did. I commend ones like Southwest who tried for as long as economically possible

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    I am in favor of blocking middle seats. However I will fly United or American if I would have to take a connecting flight on Delta.

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    If airplane filters kill 99% of bacteria, why is it necessary to clear the middle seat?

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    Good for Delta sticking to their guns and doing the right thing. I’m so glad I’m here in Atlanta, a Delta hub.

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    Mariela Sciarra says:

    I think for those with resistance to fly during pandemic blocking middle seats would provide a higher sense of safety. No sure is the risk change. A good option would be to offer better prices for those flying with family group members in middle seats

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    Delta is continuing with this policy because they must have run the numbers and it is a profitable decision. Once demand picks up a little more, they will go back to filling every seat.

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    Airlines could make big money making it easy to buy up empty seats. Offer passengers the option to buy empty seats! I’d be happy to pay an extra $150 if I could get two buffer seats. Planes with extra space feel like a vacation. Packed planes not so much.

    Another option, assuming passengers aren’t willing to pay for space, would be to remove middle seats and replace with the passenger’s luggage. The cargo area would then be available for freight.

  • Avatar

    Yes, airlines must block the middle seat. Congras Delta

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    Ana Maria del Rosario Valencia says:

    I am glad you posted this information and look forward to see whether the non-compliant airlines will follow Delta’s good practices.
    I flew Iberia last October and they DID NOT block any middle seats at all. Nowhere to complain, of course….

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    Juan Ignacio says:

    I always said, Delta, by far is the best American airline. Kudos DL!!

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    The middel seat should be blocked forever, it’s nice with the extra space 😀

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    COVID concerns aside, by having a blocked middle seat, one’s enjoyment from flying in economy class great increases when you are not touching shoulder to shoulder with a complete stranger.

    If Delta thinks this strategy works for them longer than their competitors, then kudos to them and I will seek them out next time I fly actively.

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    I feel uncomfortable flying these days even with a middle seat blocked. Fuller planes make spreading infection easier. When airlines don’t block the middle seat, they are putting profits over the health of the country. They should be forced to fly emptier planes. If they want to remain profitiable they can raise prices.

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    Are we sure that reducing number of passengers gives more security? What about passengers traveling near another in two seats lines?

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    While I’m not concerned about the distancing itself, blocking middle seats reduces the density and subsequently reduces the statistical number of COVID-positive people on board.

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    Gilberto Souza de Morais says:

    I don’t like flying Delta, but I would certainly consider in , because it is aware of this drastic situation.

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    Kudos to Delta but I really wonder how long it will last. Seems travel demand increasing steadily.

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    Bravo, Delta. Thank you for continuing to do the right thing.

    • Avatar

      Not prioritizing profit, when that’s essentially why you exist and when your company is already severely suffering, absolutely deserves kudos. And, it deserves attention. The more folks that know this, the more Delta will be rewarded in the long run with loyal customers.

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    angelo fonseca says:

    Unfortunately, little by little, Covid’s solidarity fades.

  • Avatar

    I do wish that more airlines were still blocking middle seats. Even if they say that it may not work it still puts less people on a plane and therefore a lesser chance of covid, colds, etc. Still wiping everything down but comfort is good and a sense of safety is helping me decide even now where I go out to shop, pick up food, etc. I don’t know if this will make more people pick one airline over another if one is cheaper. The mighty dollar is still the biggest choice for people.

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    It would have been wise on airlines’ part if they elect to end the policy after spring break.

  • Avatar

    Its shocking to know that only Delta airlines is still blocking middle seats. The pandemic is worse than ever. I believe all the other airlines should continue or restart blocking the middle seat.

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    I love that Delta still blocks their middle seat and although they were not my first choice to fly with previously, they are now who I actively seek out to book flights. International travel feels much better and people in general are more respectful to adhering to safety policies whereas domestic travel is where I see the greatest lack of participation in correct mask wearing and general social distancing guidelines. Now if only the airlines would all start to enforce distancing when boarding and disembarking (and load the plane back to front and empty front to back). I would definitely pay more in the future to sit in a seat with guaranteed blocked middle- though just like someone buying a second seat to fit their body I am sure the airlines would still sell out that “vacant” seat.

  • Avatar

    Enjoy it while it lasts, 1st quarter is the slowest travel quarter anyway….don’t see how Delta will be able to keep this policy over another Summer unless they get more billions from the government

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    When flying in 2021, Delta will be first of my choices.

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    I bought a more expensive ticket on Delta just to avoid a packed plane. United is the worst, I’m literally sitting closer to a stranger on a plane than my own family at home.

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    I feel more comfortable with blocked middle seats too. It helps me feel safer, but we are not ready to travel yet.

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    I think it is great that Delta air lines is still blocking middle seats. For better or worse my wife and I have been booking flights on AA and UA because of the large price differential.

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    Not surprised that Delta is the only one still blocking seats. They are smartly using there pre-covid strong financial position to build trust with flyers.

  • Avatar

    Alaska Airlines continues to block middle seats in Premium for extra legroom & extra elbow room through May 31sr, 2021.

    James

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    Travelfreek says:

    I traveled in October w SWA and felt very comfortable. My kids traveled over Christmas on SWA and were fine with the more full flights. They also flew SWA in May and August and were not uncomfortable.

  • Avatar

    I love the blocked middle seats. Airlines should keep it like that in 2021.

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    Jorge Jimenez says:

    I’d have a preference for booking flights with companies that block middle seats.

    I don’t think this guarantees safety but it might increase probabilities of staying safe.

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    So Delta is the only airline who puts people health above profits .hmmm

  • Avatar

    Delta ending in March is quite a chunk of time.

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    Airlines have to do what they have to do to survive.

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    Not sure how I feel about this – I think social distancing still has a huge part to play and blocking off the middle seat does help – especially when passengers are not compliant with masking up.

  • Avatar

    I understand the feeling of space but I don’t know how well blocking seats works more than masks and cleaning? Being right up next to someone coughing or whatever can be icky and possibly easier for particles to get into mini open spots in masks that are not right against your face? Maybe then it would give me more peace of mind to have a center seat blocked. I know that right now I am not traveling and will wait as long as I can.

    • Avatar

      Exactly my thoughts. Having been coughed and sneezed on numerous times, by seatmates, and knowing how covid-19 particles are transmitted, there’s no way I’d feel safe sitting cheek to jowl during the covid-19 pandemic.

  • Avatar

    All airlines should still be blocking middle seats especially since the virus have still not been contained. They should stop when the vaccine actually works.

  • Avatar

    It’s a tough call by the airlines. Profitability and business survival Vs increased health risks. Providing the airlines are transparent I think this is ok.

  • Avatar

    I’m less inclined to be concerned about the airlines policies once on board the aeroplane. However, they need to rethink their boarding disembarking procedures. Herding passengers in the ramp area and negating all social distancing there is unwise. Not filtering the exit from from to back, one row at a time, causes a similar problem.

  • Avatar
    Gilberto Souza de Morais says:

    Hopefully it’s not too early to resume selling the middle seats.

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    ignacio medina says:

    This policy makes no sense, international travels, or at least those carried by non-US Carriers have all the seats available to be booked and there was not much people who got the virus traveling, so, the review of this policy is necessary.

  • Avatar

    Understand this is a difficult decision. Blocking middle seats definitely makes passengers feel much safer but it affects airlines’ revenue too much to last forever.

  • Avatar

    I just flew SFO > SEA via Alaska – can confirm that all of the middle seats were open (737 plane). Furthermore the mask policy was amicably observed by all that I saw on the flight.

  • 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.

  • Avatar

    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.

  • Avatar

    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 🙂

  • Avatar

    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

  • Avatar

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

  • Avatar

    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.

  • Avatar

    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.

    • Avatar

      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.

  • Avatar

    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.

  • Avatar
    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.

  • Avatar

    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.

  • Avatar

    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!!!

  • Avatar

    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….

  • Avatar

    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.

  • Avatar

    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.

    • Avatar

      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.

    • Avatar

      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.

  • Avatar

    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?

  • Avatar

    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.

  • Avatar

    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.

  • Avatar

    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?