At this point a vast majority of airlines the world have dismissed the concept of consistently blocking seats so that nobody has a neighbor. While that wouldn’t offer “true” social distancing, it would at least offer some amount of personal space.
Some airlines have gone above and beyond, clearly as a way of differentiating themselves. Here in the US, Alaska, Delta, JetBlue, and Southwest, all block seats. Delta has just extended its seat blocking policy beyond September 30, but in the process has also reduced the extent to which seats will be blocked.
Delta extends and restricts seat blocking
With Delta’s current policy, flights are booked to no more than 60% of capacity through at least September 30, 2020:
- Delta One, Premium Select, Comfort+, and Main Cabin, are being booked to no more than 60% of capacity
- First Class is being booked to no more than 50% of capacity
Delta has been blocking every other first class seat
When it comes to Delta’s seat blocking policy, there’s good and bad news. The good news is that Delta will continue blocking seats through at least January 6, 2021. The bad news is that Delta is reducing the extent to which it’s blocking seats.
Through January 6, 2021:
- For parties of one to two people, middle seats will be blocked
- For parties of three or more people, middle seats will appear as available for booking, to allow families and travel companions to select seats together
- With this policy change, Delta is increasing the maximum capacity in Main Cabin from 60% to 75%
Delta will keep blocking middle seats
Then through October 31, 2020, Delta is pledging the following:
- The number of customers onboard all aircraft will be limited, with or without middle seats
- First class will be booked to at most half of capacity (except regional jets in a 1-2 configuration, where they’ll be booked to no more than 67% of capacity)
- One aisle of seats will be blocked on aircraft without middle seats
In other words, this means that as of November:
- First Class and Delta One may be booked to capacity
- Regional jets in a 2-2 configuration may be booked to capacity
Regional jets may be booked full starting in November
That’s not to say that this will happen, but rather that it could happen. As of now Delta is only making non-middle seat promises through the end of October.
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 increased, meaning that many of the flights still operating are fairly full.
At this point 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 second quarter financial results were significantly worse than those of American and United, though that goes way beyond seat blocking.
Delta One Suites will likely no longer be blocked
Where Delta has differed with the industry
The industry on the whole has argued that blocking middle seats isn’t necessary or reasonable:
- Blocking middle seats long term wouldn’t be possible without raising airfare 50%+, which would have a significant impact on demand
- Even with blocking seats you’re still not going to have the recommended six feet of distancing
- The industry instead embraces things like mandatory face masks, deeper cleaning of planes, temperature screenings, boarding and deplaning processes that minimize crowding, etc.
Airlines are trying to make boarding more orderly
Delta is typically the leader among US airlines, so why is Delta willing to forgo revenue in order to block seats, while competitors aren’t doing that? It comes down to one very important point — Delta knows that for the industry to recover, consumers need to perceive flying as being safe.
Delta, unlike most other airlines, also thinks passengers are willing to pay a premium for that. Delta has long managed to get a revenue premium over competitors.
On the plus side, Delta will be continuing to block seats into early 2021. The airline won’t be booking you in a middle seat next to a stranger.
However, the airline is very much starting to otherwise scale back its seat blocking. Starting in November both Delta One and First Class may no longer feature seat blocking, while there are also no guarantees of seat blocking on regional jets without middle seats.
Now, it’s possible that Delta extends its current policy beyond October 31, but that’s not being promised as of now.
What do you make of Delta’s watered down seat blocking policy extension?