Delta Extends Seat Blocking Policy Through April 2021

Filed Under: Delta

Delta has just announced an extension to its industry-leading seat blocking policy.

How does Delta’s seat blocking policy work?

Delta Air Lines’ seat blocking policy is now valid through April 30, 2021, which is a one month extension beyond the previous date of March 30, 2021. Delta’s seat blocking policy includes the following restrictions:

  • Delta will block adjacent seats in first class on domestic US flights
  • Delta will block middle seats on all flights in economy, Comfort+ (extra legroom economy), and Premium Select (premium economy)
  • Delta will block one aisle of seats on regional jets (which have a 2-2 configuration in economy, meaning that 25% of seats are blocked)
  • Delta is capping the maximum capacity in economy at 75% (this assumes that a lot of groups are traveling together, which won’t be the case on many flights)
  • When parties of three or more are traveling together in economy, an entire row can be selected
  • When parties of two or more are traveling in first class, adjacent seats can be selected

Select seats will continue to be blocked on Delta regional jets

Delta’s seat blocking policy is the best in the industry, though it’s worth noting that the current policy is scaled back a bit compared to what it was at the beginning of the pandemic:

  • Delta One used to be limited to at most 60% of capacity, but for planes with two aisles, there are no more capacity restrictions
  • Regional jets in a 2-2 configuration used to be capped at 50% of capacity at most (as the aisle or window seats were blocked), while they’re now capped at 75% of capacity

Delta will keep blocking middle seats

Delta is outdoing competitors here

Most airlines around the globe dismissed the concept of blocking seats since the start of the pandemic. While that wouldn’t offer “true” social distancing, it would at least offer some amount of personal space, and give people some peace of mind.

Among US airlines, four airlines have blocked seats in a significant way — Alaska, Delta, JetBlue, and Southwest. It’s worth acknowledging that Delta has kept this benefit around significantly longer than competitors:

At this point Delta is the only major US airline to be blocking seats.

Delta will continue to block seats through at least March 2021

Seat blocking is getting costly for Delta

When the pandemic first started, seat blocking probably wasn’t too costly for Delta to offer, given how few people were flying. However, at this point airlines have drastically reduced capacity while the number of people traveling has generally increased, meaning that many of the flights still operating are fairly full.

It’s clearly costing Delta quite a bit to offer this benefit. While the airline has long tried to differentiate itself from American and United (which aren’t blocking seats), I’m not sure Delta is getting the short-term payoff it was expecting.

For what it’s worth, Delta’s financial results haven’t been great in the past few quarters, and don’t really suggest that the airline is getting a revenue premium that reflects people valuing this policy.

Personally I think it’s likely that this is the last extension of Delta’s generous seat blocking policy. In the past the seat blocking was extended by at least a couple of months at a time, while we’re now seeing a one month extension.

Has Delta’s seat blocking policy paid off?

Bottom line

Delta Air Lines will continue blocking seats through April 30, 2021. While there were initially four major US airlines blocking seats, at this point Delta is the only airline to have such a policy.

This is a fantastic development, and I’d absolutely go out of my way to choose Delta over a competitor because of this. If nothing else, it sure is more comfortable to fly with an empty seat next to you.

Unfortunately I suspect this might be the last extension of this benefit.

Would you go out of your way to fly an airline that’s blocking seats? And do you think Delta will extend seat blocking beyond April 30?

Comments
  1. Not going out of my way, but flying DL in a couple weeks on a CR7. Knowing the seat next to me will be empty is incredibly reassuring. If AA was doing the same, I would be upset about reduced upgrade availability if it was a longer flight.

    I love that airlines have the ability to do this, giving people more options is great.

  2. I know they are losing some pax because even in first they only serve beer and whine. I’ve sometimes flown AA or UA first to get liquor. But if that all were equal, I would take DL more. Also UA has started offering more substantial meals in first and not just shelf stable snack boxes. The meals are not as good as before C19, but I think UA’s meals or rather they really are snacks, are better than AA’s and DL’s. But its interesting how folly consumers are in not picking DL because of C19 or no C19, who would not want an empty middle???

  3. This is a very nice gesture, but no way I’d go out of my way for it. If Delta flew to all the places I’m going (they dont even fly to where I’m going this week) or if they had more nonstop flights to the places I fly from where I live, then I’d consider them more. But where I live – Washington, DC – they dont go to where I need to go nonstop most of the time. I did fly them on their DCA-LAX nonstop last August as the time worked perfectly for me, and that was great. But for where I normally need to go, they only offer connections when other airlines offer nonstop flights, and I’m not going to spend more time traveling – in both airplanes and airports – when I can get a nonstop.

  4. Lucky in threads about SkyPesos: shocked and appalled

    Lucky in other delta threads: simping for Ed Bastien

  5. I would definitely go out of my way to fly Delta because of this. Everyone should do this until at least August.

  6. I just got off a flight on an airline that is not blocking seats and there were more than 2/3 of the seats empty – and that was one of their major routes.

    Delta had a 25% yield advantage over United in the 4th quarter and a smaller yield advantage to American – although Delta and United’s route systems are more alike now with international and domestic amounts of capacity.

    None of the airlines that weren’t blocking seats in the 4th quarter filled more than 2/3 of their seats – the amount that Delta is capping its capacity.

    Delta is simply pushing passengers off of the potentially full flights to other flights while getting more revenue per seat in the process – and they are certain to do all they can to keep that revenue advantage going after they stop blocking seats.

    At this point, I expect they will extend their seat blocking to just before Memorial Day.

  7. What they’re losing in blocking seats they’re picking up in gutting sky miles. I actively go out of my way to avoid delta these days.

  8. Your list isn’t completely accurate, Ben. Alaska is still blocking middle seats in premium through May. This is great for AS Mileage plan elites (and OneWorld elites from April 1). As a result it was a no-brainer for me to book them for a couple of May flights.

  9. …..and their stock is up 5% today as we speak. I’m going out of my way to fly them next month from IND-CLT because of this policy – even changing planes in ATL to avoid AA’s nonstop

  10. Important to note that Delta blocks middle seats… but they won’t necessarily block a seat in a row of 2… so it’s still very possibly to be next to a stranger on a wide body for example. On a recent SEA-AMS flight there was a lot of confusion onboard as the middle seats in the 4-seater section were indeed blocked, but no such blocking in the rows of 2 along the windows.

  11. I’ve continued to go out of my way to fly Delta due in large part to the seat blocking policy. I feel completely comfortable traveling with Delta at this point, while the AA trip I took in summer felt like a death trap.

    I can’t wait to be eligible for a vaccine!

  12. I will (almost) always opt to mitigate uncertainty when flying. Combine that with the option to mitigate viral transmission, and I am sold. I have no flights planned during this period, but I would definitely choose to fly Delta if I needed to purchase a ticket.

    Disclaimer 1: DL is my preferred carrier anyway.
    Disclaimer 2: I’m status-free on all carriers, so I don’t have to worry about any upgrade situations.

  13. When I see the pricing strategy AA is using, it is clear they are doing all they can to get bodies on planes. DL is not discounting the way AA is, and maybe it’s just PR for them to get us to think they care, but that they are intentionally putting a hard cap on the number of bodies in seats feels like a much more customer-focused approach in the middle of a pandemic. SkyMiles is certainly not the best, but when it comes to the way DL seems to view its passengers, they get my money.

  14. If blocking a middle seat is a deciding factor for anyone, you should really not be flying at the moment. Blocking a middle seat is not making you any more safe. If you are scared having someone inches from you, stay home.

  15. Delta also got far more employees to take early retirement and voluntary leave packages than any other airline (even as a percentage of total employees). You need less employees if you are not planning to have longer lines at ticket counters, more res offices etc. Unlike other airlines, they haven’t even updated in their total employee numbers on their financial statements but it is certain they have a lower percentage of employees working compared to pre-covid than other airlines .

  16. It’s certainly more than other airlines but it starts to feel very hollow after the loosening of the blocking.
    I was in a delta CR7 two weeks ago sitting next to a perfect stranger in a 2×2 aircraft config. The aisle seat next to us across the aisle was open though. Great for the passenger in that window seat but not me. Thankfully, I didn’t pay extra to fly delta.

  17. Tim Dunn,
    Your single data point extrapolation of “my flight wasn’t full therefore it doesn’t matter” is fake math. You know as well as anyone that delta is flying a significantly lower load factor than other airlines. And before you begin a five paragraph tirade on yield, that doesn’t matter either when you’re flying such low load factors.

    Is this your new website to troll website owners that dare to speak against delta?

  18. I’ll take AA where I can upgrade and/or upfare for a modest cost. I’ll get beverages (with ice) and on flights of over 900 miles a fairly substantial snack. I’ll take that any day over DL COVID theater any day. Wow one month, like even if it had any benefit would really mean much.

  19. In the last week in the US, about 1.46 million doses of vaccine have been given per day. If we are able to keep that pace, another month would mean about 43 to 44 million more doses in arms before allowing Delta planes to be crowded. Not perfect, but it’s enough for me to remain loyal.

  20. David
    0.01% vs 0.02% difference per actual studies, not your local primary care doc. Is that really a statistical significance to you?

  21. Jake,
    Airlines generate and report enormous amounts of data – and it isn’t lie, including at the bottom line, no matter where you read it.
    Delta is still blocking seats because it can justify the financials to prove it both internally and compared to its peers.

  22. Tim,
    Biggest single year loss in the history of aviation ex-bankruptcy: Delta in 2020. But please keep telling us how the bottom line proves your point.
    As you know from your tirades on other websites, delta’s yield meant nothing given their low Load factor which is exactly why their prasm and rasm are consistently below United and American.

  23. Delta had large special charges related to early retirements of employees and aircraft. If you want to run around the internet trying to deny the reality that Delta has done a better job managing through covid, go for it.

    American and United are now going to take the multi-billion dollar special charges for generous retirement packages that Delta already took.

    Delta will still be blocking seats, generating as much or more revenue as other airlines, and will now be returning to cash burn neutral status much earlier thanks to AAL and UAL’s unions’ cries to Washington to avoid furloughs. AAL and UAL will be using the current and future rounds of government aid to fund early retirement packages that DAL and LUV have already funded.

    Why it is so hard for you to accept those realities and why you fight so hard against them is hard to understand.

    Delta made the right moves at the right move including blocking seats and continuing to do so. Actual financial statements show it. The fact that demand remains far below 2019 levels show there is no rush to try to sell flights full – only to dilute revenue, even though that is what American and United and Southwest are doing.

    Delta, Alaska and JetBlue have seen MUCH lower rates of decline in their yield.

    It’s all in published financial statements – not opinion.

  24. Delta had the biggest losses in 2020 of the big 3 but if you look at the daily cash burn at the end of Q4 Delta is down to 12 million per day. This is better than American and United cash burn rate in the 20-30 and 15-20 million per day rate respectively.

    Not sure if this means more people are flying on Delta at a higher premium for safety or if the scale back of older aircraft for Delta is having a greater recovery effect.

  25. Tim, your usual 7 paragraph nonsense of Saying “the statements show it” accompanied by four other misleading paragraphs doesn’t make it true but the truth has rarely concerned you when it concerns delta.

    Trolling and making up facts to suit your narrative is what you do best and it’s why you get banned on so many websites.

  26. So what about the seats in front or back of me? It’s a false sense of security, pure marketing ploy. But if it works, good for Delta. Let’s not kid ourselves. They would sell those seats in a heartbeat, if they could.

  27. I’ve got news to people on this site. If the other airlines thought they could raise more revenue per flight by blocking middle seats they would have done it a long time ago. DL could sell those seats in a hearbeat because every airline out there is packing planes to the gills.

  28. George,
    AA filled the highest percentage of seats in the 4th quarter of US airlines at 64% while Delta filled less than 45% – but only offered to sell about 2/3 of its seats.

    No one can sell load factors even comparable to what they offered a year ago.

    AA had a lower yield and a MUCH higher unit cost.

    Delta’s strategy of selling less seats for more money and getting more costs out worked in the 4th quarter as shown by its losses which were less than other carriers. The 4th quarter was SUPPOSED to be the quarter when US airlines would fly without aid.

    Now that another round of aid is being thrown to airlines, AAL and UAL will have to use it not just to recall and pay the thousands of employees it has tried to furlough twice while the rest of the industry will use it to subsidize labor costs. AAL and UAL also have no choice but to spend on massive early retirement programs like DAL and LUV did because they don’t know when the music will stop with aid – but it will probably be by this summer when at least enough leisure demand will return because of more confidence in travel which will likely result in DL’s removal of seat blocking

    DL’s seat blocking was always a financial strategy that was tied to perception of cleanliness, higher yields, and lower costs.

  29. George,
    You’re right and tim knows that. His opinion and bias toward Delta on the issue was easily exposed for the nonsense it is by even the slightest bit of analysis on another website (something he spent hours trying to dispute in the comments section before being banned entirely by the website owner with his usual slanted data and dogmatic claims of truth with zero backup): https://crankyflier.com/2021/01/21/blocking-middle-seats-didnt-pay-off-for-delta-last-summer/

  30. The data is available for ANYONE that wants it to see including that Delta got a double digit percent revenue advantage on top of a double digit cost advantage. Delta’s financial results are either a lie and you should file a complaint with the SEC or they are accurate – regardless of whether you or anyone like them or not and whether they implicate the failed strategies of other carriers or not.

    and this blog has a far more balanced approach which people here and everyone that has discussed the issue have shown – people are willing to pay more for Delta service.

  31. Again, Delta had the worst loss of any carrier in history outside of bankruptcy, maybe even including bankruptcy.
    That’s your bottom line.
    There was zero revenue advantage by delta. None. Their rasm was below that of aa and ua. Yield is not revenue advantage lol
    You can talk 4Q all you want but that 4q benefit had to be purchased in 2q and the full year loss shows that.
    Delta can’t operate an airline that competes with American and United without rehiring most of those 18k that left back in some way. Those costs will start to come back somewhat in 1q and 2q.
    The full year loss is the only one that shows how badly delta did in purchasing retirements for a short term cost advantage vs competitors.
    The other special in 2020 was related to not renewing their fleet over the last few years like American and United did so, of course, retiring all those planes was a cost and special charge but it was a cost American and United paid out over the last decade by renewing their fleets already and retiring old planes like the MD-80, something delta had not done.
    Bottom line: due to strategic choices delta has made on their own that other airlines already did or did via furlough, they had the biggest loss in airline history in 2020.

    And per Cranky, you spent hours in his comments section every day for a guy that didn’t respect his analysis.

    Next.

  32. No one like a middle seat…until DL blocks and then people have to go and analyze the real reasons and motives behind this move. Who cares? If DL gave away hundred dollar bills as you boarded, someone on this thread would find a reason to vindicate them.

    And to the point of Delta’s limited service offering on domestic and North America flights; covid is as bad as it’s really ever been. People are getting vaccinated but people are still getting sick and dying. You shouldn’t be sipping mixed drinks from take off to touch down without a mask on like there isn’t a care in the world. And no doubt if that was offered people would do it. I watched a gentleman on my flight nurse a one pint water bottle for 55mins. When the FA kindly asked him to replace his mask he said “I’m still working on my water, do you mind not harassing me”. Now imagine if there were meals and mixed drinks. People are the worst. I honestly don’t know how flight attendants do it, or why people are so surprised when they become callous after a 13hr day of dealing with guys like that.

  33. Julie,
    Delta did have a yield, casm and bottom line advantage to its competitors. It doesn’t really matter whether you want to see it or you want to argue what they didn’t have.
    And, yes, they “bought” the advantage by taking massive charges in the 2nd and 3rd quarters for fleet and personnel.
    And, AA and UA will be taking massive charges to the same thing over the next few quarters -because they know full well they didn’t get their costs down enough.
    American flew its last MD80 flight less than a year before Delta; let’s not get the least bit uppity about how they were forward looking in getting rid of older aircraft.

    John R is right on both of his points. People are not near as focused on onboard service – or they sure aren’t paying for more of it – than they are concerned about a safe space. You can argue but the actual data doesn’t lie. Delta says they are carrying a higher percent of industry business traffic than ever. It is no surprise that they see optimism in the recovery that UA’s exec team dashed when they reported just days later. Same market, same industry – two very different views based on two very different levels of service and money being received for both. You need only look at stock charts for both carriers for the week following their 4th quarter financial reports to see how investors thought about what Delta and United said.

    You clearly have a problem accepting not only the data but also the messenger.

    before you write another word, how about you take a deep breath and recognize that Delta was voted the most admired airline in the world by Forbes for yet another year AND Delta’s market cap is worth more than AA and UA’s combined – with room to spare.

    Ben has a realistic assessment of DL’s seat blocking in this article. He thinks DL is leaving money on the table but he didn’t argue the point and he didn’t even try to throw data around to make his point. If he disagrees with what I wrote, he can certainly respond as he often does to his readers. It doesn’t matter what anyone on any other site thinks or writes.

  34. Tim, If it doesn’t matter what anyone else writes or thinks, then why do you respond to everyone?
    Grow up. Yield means nothing and delta did special charges to lower their casm in case you don’t know how it works.
    The bottom line is what it is: biggest loss in the history of aviation: delta air lines 2020.

  35. You are the one that jumped into this conversation which I replied to. You are the one that can’t stand the message that Delta figured out how to navigate the covid environment better and are running from site to site to argue against that. It clearly seems like it matters to you. Can you tell us why?

    You simply don’t want to believe any data that acknowledges that Delta figured it out including that it is getting a large enough yield advantage to more than offset what it is losing in blocked seats – which are being sold at other carriers at deep discounts. Delta also got costs out.

    It doesn’t matter whether you like it, agree with it or anything else. Those the financials that Delta delivered and which can be compared side by side with every other airline.

    Delta didn’t take charges to lower its CASM. It took charges to restructure its business; all companies did it. Delta has taken the most since covid – because Delta understands that the airline industry is fundamentally changed. Other airlines have and will take large charges to restructure as well. You are throwing stones in glass houses by trying to argue against what Delta is doing because other airlines will do the exact same thing – esp. AAL and UAL.

    If you want to continue the conversation, let Ben know that you would like to meet me and I will be happy to do so. Continuing to argue online accomplishes nothing. oh, and why don’t you add your real full name if you are so determined that you should be heard.

    Grow up yourself and accept industry realities whether you like them or not.

  36. What’s the deal with seat blocking for Delta One on the 757? It lets me select a seat next to one that is occupied — are they blocking adjacent seats in single-aisle Delta One?

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