Delta Extends Seat Blocking Policy To March 2021

Filed Under: Delta

Delta is very much countering the trend, and has announced that it will continue blocking seats through early spring of 2021.

How does Delta’s seat blocking policy work?

Delta Air Lines’ seat blocking policy is now valid through March 30, 2021, which is an extension beyond the previous date of January 6, 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 be blocked on Delta regional jets

Delta’s seat blocking policy is still industry leading, 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 have been blocking seats in some capacity — Alaska, Delta, JetBlue, and Southwest.

It’s worth acknowledging that Delta is keeping this benefit around longer than competitors:

So we know that two of the four airlines that were blocking seats will stop doing so in the coming weeks, while we don’t know what Alaska will do.

Delta is in a league of its own by extending seat blocking through March 2021, though the airline has also previously indicated that the seat blocking will likely end in the first half of 2021.

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 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 couple of quarters, and don’t really suggest that the airline is getting a revenue premium that reflects people valuing this policy.

Has Delta’s seat blocking policy paid off?

Bottom line

Delta Air Lines will continue blocking seats through March 30, 2021. While there were initially four US airlines blocking seats, Southwest and JetBlue have announced plans to stop blocking seats in the coming weeks, so Delta is really differentiating itself.

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 (or maybe second to last?) extension of this benefit.

Would you go out of your way to fly an airline that’s blocking seats?

Comments
  1. Great news and this will definitely impact who I book with in the future. I recently flew AS and was thrilled with their safety measures / precautions, and then flew UA and it was quite literally the opposite. Businesses will be judged with how they handle this pandemic, and Delta will surely be looked at positively once everything is over.

    March 2021 is looking more and more like when things will store to normalize, and for Delta to put customer health of profits is a *huge* selling point.

  2. I really appreciate this decision by Delta. Sure I would love to get more value for my Skymiles, but in literally every other aspect of travel there is no better airline for my travel in North America. Their commitment to this since April has given me some needed peace of mind when traveling.

  3. Delta seems to me on average to be getting higher prices. At least for me, it’s rare to see another competitor priced higher.

  4. Love this. Definitely going out of my way to try and book Delta even tho my options from Pittsburgh are limited.

  5. Given that the chance of getting COVID in flight is near 0% and that the chance of getting seriously ill or die from COVID if you’re in good health is near 0% this is nothing more than a marketing gimmick for the dumb down masses.

  6. My only flights during COVID-19 times have been on Delta and I have felt very safe on board (less so at some of the airports).

    I have noticed that there is a fare premium over AA on the same routes. I would also note that for those that value Comfort+ or First the upgrades are even more difficult to score now with significantly reduced seat availability driving some who want even more personal space to pay the premium for these seats.

  7. Booked our most recent trip on DL for this very reason. We were just stunned at how much better the overall experience is flying DL as opposed to AA. It’s kind of insane. It’s very clear that DL flyers fly DL for the experience and customer service. AA used to the the airline you tolerated because AAdvantage was worth it, but that’s no longer the case for us!

  8. My guess is some other airlines walk back their phase out. They phased out before COVID cases multiplied. Everyone I know in the medical community says do not sit next to a stranger on an airplane.

  9. Proud delta diamond and owner of skypesos. I hope passengers will remember this long term along with other improvements delta have been putting their effort in past couple of years. From keeping IFE, 9 abreast b777, the only a350 operator in US, a220 operator thus far in US, improved long haul economy service, minimum layoff to cabin crew during this downturn. I’d say delta investors are in it for more than just ROI. Ed Bastian is definitely one of the “better CEO” out there.

    @George Romey,
    Chance of dying is near 0%? Same as flying a max then. Would you say Boeing shouldn’t fix the Max?

  10. @George N Romey
    You seem to have certain knowledge which nobody else has.
    I am aware of the following;
    Two well known aviation related firms are starting a joint project to research the risk of contagion and measures which might ameliorate such risk. The answer is not known yet to these two firms, Airbus and Boeing.
    There is information regarding a well studied contagious episode on a flight from the UK to Vietnam. This was prior to masks being mandated but some people were masked and I fear people remove their masks to eat and drink anyway.

  11. As nice as HEPA filters are, they are not a vacuum. If you’re seated next to someone and they’re coughing, good luck getting protection from the filter. Delta is once again leading the entire industry.

    While it’s costing Delta quite a bit now, there is at least an end in sight, with promising vaccines from both Pfizer and Moderna. I think the good will and brand value Delta has built will last beyond the pandemic.

  12. Lucky,
    If you actually read financial statements, you would know that Delta got a higher passenger yield than any other airline in the 3rd quarter so they most definitely are getting a benefit from blocking seats. Not opinion. It is either true or false based on the most recent financial statements. Feel free to post the passenger yields by airline (you can mileage adjust them if you want), if you doubt that Delta has achieved what it set out to do.
    and Delta’s financial results have been driven by special charges – for tens of thousands of employees leaving the company in retirement programs – and the retirement of fuel INEFFICIENT aircraft like the 777, not by operational results that are any worse than peer carriers.
    Given that covid case numbers are skyrocketing in the US, the fear of being near someone that might be infected is heightened. The willingness to buy a little space – whether 6 feet or not – is higher.
    and Delta said in its last earnings call that corporate travel departments tell Delta that the number one factor they are using for where they book travel is whether airlines block seats or not. Of course no other airline will tell you that factor because they either didn’t hear it or ignored it.
    People don’t want to sit right next to someone else in the best of times. They sure don’t in a pandemic.

    Delta has simply figured out how to turn seat blocking into a long-term gain for the company at the expense of its competitors.

  13. I’m just one data point but I booked SLC > LAX > JFK > PHL on AA for the space but once those segments got canceled as they did last month I rebooked Delta F because they block seats. I’m not representative of a population but I’m certainly one upper middle class guy who booked them because they would provide some space during a 3+ hour flight

  14. Whatever their underlying motives, this has worked on me as a consumer. Skypesos may be garbage, but I really appreciate this from Delta. I have always seen them as better than the others, and this only confirms that.

  15. Did four transcons this summer with Delta. Each time I paid about $45 more for first class than I typically have in the past (2018-2019), but due to Delta’s policy I knew that not only would I be in first but I would also have an empty seat next to me. They are leaving at least 15% or 20% on the table in my opinion, there is not going to be a time in the remainder of my life when I will hesitate to pay a 20% to 30% premium for a guaranteed empty seat next to me, regardless of covid 19.

  16. I have to fly to TUS for a Global Entry interview in December. This is my fourth attempt at an interview since late last March and I don’t want to wait until 2022. The interview calendar is way backed up right now. Was going to fly WN and spend two nights down there. With this COVID spike, I canceled my WN flights and booked a one day trip on DL. Fly out at 6am, have the interview in the afternoon then return late that night. Booked DL Comfort (no luggage or seat mates) so I’ll board last and be one of the first off. I just want to get this done with. I’ll just about be wearing a full body condom to protect me from the apocalypse that day.

  17. When is Delta going to bring back service in first-class? It is completely unacceptable that no Coke or coffee is served. You can get all the cheap Barefoot-quality wine you want on the 7 a.m. flight but you can’t get a coffee or drink a Coke Zero. Completely absurd. Same for no meals on transcontinental flights, including in Delta One between Los Angeles and New York.

  18. @tim Dunn
    Your lies are so fun. If you actually read Delta’s financial statements you’d know their absolute revenue in 3Q was lower by a third vs AA
    Their PRASM was lower than AA
    And their TRASM was lower than AA. Their non – gaap real trasm, not the one you’re pointing to.
    There’s no revenue premium for delta.

  19. This is a stupid and wasteful policy driven by ignorance and scaring the public. The CDC, NIH and Mayo Clinic have all stated that flying is safe with or without the middle seat blocked. People who continue to be uneducated about the virus need to learn the facts. Offices, bars, and Trump rallies so far are the major spreaders. Schools with modified schedules, flying, have low risk. With the cleaning, mask wearing we should all be fine to fly middle seat or not.

    I’ve lived in DL and AA hubs and personally, DL is all marketing and influencer driven. Their seat pitch is worse then AA and the stupid IFE screen take up under seat space, don’t work with blue tooth headphones and many times just don’t work. Plus DL wifi sucks. Don’t get me started about the 100 year old A320s 757 and 767 they refuse to replace. Sorry, my DL verse AA experience of late puts my dollars (and I am still flying BTW) in the AA coffers. DL eventually, fact will catch up to your marketing myths.

  20. Ben is right, this has not drive a RASM premium at all. In fact they lag AA and UA. AA is capture roughly 1/3 of all US fliers now and unlikely earlier in the pandemic when DL tried setting higher fares they now are matching AA just to try to fill 2/3 of the plane. Delta has gotten in their own heads on seat blocking. They’ve claimed its necessary for safety but now no one else is following that lead.

  21. Recently saw an interview with Ed Bastian where he said continued blocking of middle seats was not a safety/health issue, but to help instill customer confidence in flying. He also mentioned Delta had 3% more revenue in Q3 on ~30% less seat inventory (vs major competitors)?, though I haven’t looked at all the 10Q filings to confirm. I take him for his word. Bravo to Delta.

  22. I would definitely pick Delta if they flew nonstop on my route that’s served nonstop by several other airlines.

  23. I commute between DEN/LAX and am a very loyal WN fan. But as of Dec 1, I am switching completely to DL. And I’ll even purchase F tix (as long as it isn’t too outrageous) just to support DL.

    As an MD, and with all due respect to CDC/WHO etc, no one (even Fauci) has rigorously studied what the TRUE risk of flying really is. Load factor, length of flight, density of seating, hygiene, etc are all factors that are constantly in flux for every given flight- the risk isn’t monolithic or, I’d argue, truly knowable. We are only six months into this- when we have long term, meaningful, robust data, then we can have a truly meaningful discussion about travel risk.

    Lastly, if risk is LOW (not ZERO, by the way) with blocked middle seats, it is intuitive that risk INCREASES with unblocked middle seats. So there is LOW and LESS LOW. I’ll take DL, thank you very much!

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