Delta Stops Blocking Seats To One Destination

Filed Under: Delta

Delta Air Lines has delighted customers with its generous seat blocking policy throughout this pandemic. Of the “big three” US airlines, Delta is the only one to be blocking seats. However, the airline has stopped that practice to one destination in one cabin, which sets an interesting precedent, if nothing else.

How Delta’s seat blocking policy works

For several months now, Delta has been blocking seats on flights in order to give people more space:

  • Delta One, Premium Select, Comfort+, and Main Cabin, have been booked to no more than 60%
  • First Class has been booked to no more than 50%

As of now this policy is valid through September 30, 2020. I think it’s a fantastic policy, and if I were going to fly, I’d go out of my way to seek out an airline that’s blocking seats, since it makes a huge difference in terms of comfort and the overall feeling of having at least some control over your environment.

While this has no doubt been a point of differentiation for Delta, arguably it hasn’t been the most profitable move. Delta reported a massive second quarter loss, that was significantly bigger than the losses of American and United. I’m not suggesting the seat blocking alone is the root cause of that, but it presumably contributed.

Delta has been blocking middle seats for several months

Delta no longer blocking Delta One Suites to China

Delta has newly carved out a single exception for seat blocking. Delta is no longer capping capacity in business class on flights to & from China. The airline is still blocking seats in economy and premium economy to China, but that’s no longer the case in business class.

As it stands, Delta is limited to operating just two weekly flights to China, as the airline flies to Shanghai once weekly from both Detroit and Seattle. Here’s how Delta describes the decision to no longer block business class seats:

Strict government restrictions on the number of flights Delta is authorized to operate to China means seat availability remains extremely limited. To meet high demand in this market while safeguarding our customers and employees, bookings on Delta flights between the U.S. and Shanghai will be offered up to full capacity in the Delta One cabin where the Delta One suite provides more space and privacy with a full-height door at every suite and dividers between center suites. Middle seats in Delta Premium Select and Main Cabin will continue to be blocked.

In fairness, Delta flies A350s to China, and these planes feature business class suites with doors. Ultimately in Delta One Suites you still have more personal space than you’d have in many other situations where seats are blocked.

Delta A350 business class

At the same time, it does set an interesting precedent. The airline has presumably lost a significant amount of revenue because of its seat blocking policy, and now one exception is being carved out.

I can’t blame Delta for this change, because it’s hard to turn down the revenue, especially when more capacity can’t be added. At the same time, could we see further exceptions in other markets as well?

Delta A350 business class

Bottom line

All things considered Delta has done a phenomenal job with seat blocking during the current pandemic. Now for the first time since the policy was introduced, the airline is deviating from this policy. In fairness, this is just to one destination, on two flights per week, and in business class.

But it does raise the question of whether we could see this expand. Could we see Delta add similar exceptions on other routes operated by planes with Delta One Suites? I suppose they haven’t needed to, since demand on most international flights is virtually non-existent.

What do you make of Delta’s change to seat blocking on Shanghai flights? Fair enough, or an odd inconsistency?

(Tip of the hat to Zach Griff)

  1. I know you don’t blame Delta, but let’s not heap so much praise on them for this hygiene theater. This example clearly shows that they will give in when an obvious opportunity to recoup money presents itself.

  2. @pete most airlines don’t need to block seats in premium cabins as there’s more space. If there’s a door, even better. This isn’t news

  3. Somewhat puzzled that the headline says “no longer blocks.” I flew from Shanghai to Seattle on June 27, 2020 on Delta’s first return flight after its China suspension was ended. At least the front section of the Delta One cabin (I didn’t see the back section) was completely full.

  4. This makes sense. Demand is VERY VERY high for flights to China, I’m talking $5K for ECONOMY, so I totally understand Delta’s positon

  5. Yup, the door is going to keep the big bad virus at bay! The virus will definitely knock and if the inhabitant isn’t interested, it will go back to economy and search out people sitting next to each other…

  6. This policy makes a lot of sense. Even restaurants allow less social distancing if there’s plexiglass between tables, so this is basically the same thing (not to mention spacing between business class seats are pretty good).

    Only recommendation is to make customers “queue” up for washrooms by calling the FA and having the FA notify individuals when the washroom is ready for use, rather than have people line up in front of it.

    The FA could also clean + disinfect it first between uses but that might be asking for too much from Western airlines.

  7. @david Or we can all just admit that by flying you are hermetically sealed in a steel tub and no precautions will make a difference once you are in said tub.

  8. Delta One Suites already have doors and has no one sitting right next to you. I’m actually surprised that there were seat blocking at first (there aren’t any “adjacent seat” to block in D1 cabin). Also, the D1 fare to China is ridiculous now — $16k for full fare J and even though they are only selling J the tickets are in great scarce. Some Chinese Travel Agents are charging over $20k for an one-way D1 seat to shanghai.

  9. Delta didn’t bank on this virus bringing havoc this long and blocking seats was a pure PR stunt. Now that it is obvious this is going to be a long haul with the virus, Delta is going to have to eventually book as much as possible. Delta lost MAJOR money last quarter and airlines only really make money with full flights. I said this a long time ago but Delta was backing itself into a corner with this policy. This policy is not a long term solution and they will bleed way more money than necessary. Strict mask policies, limited interaction among crew members, and booking families together is more effective than keeping middle seat open. If passengers are really concerned, they can purchase the middle seat next to themselves. Many tickets are so cheap and I’ve noticed several people doing this. Kudos to DL for the good PR stunt but as this drags on, they won’t have any choice but to allow middle seats booked. The longer more people expect middle seats the more outrage it will cause when DL eventually has to allow it.

  10. @Biz Guy

    All-or-nothing reductive reasoning. Very nice.

    Seat belts don’t protect people 100% and airbags sometimes kill the passenger so lets just remove them all from cars too!

  11. Interestingly, I saw a recap of the US3 second quarter earnings that had DL’s PRASM below UA and AA, when it’s normally higher than the other two. Hard to draw cause and effect between that and seat blocking but it doesn’t seem to be the financial slam dunk some thought it would be.

  12. I am not usually a DL fan having lifetime status on the other two (1K on UA) but I have to agree with this move on DL’s part. Revenue is tight and Premium cabin provides safe distancing (especially if you wear your mask).

  13. @ Biz Guy
    I agree with you about the hermetically sealed tube.
    Many ‘know it alls” are stating that modern jets have their air changed with outside air every minute or two, again, I don’t buy it.

    Of note, Boeing and Airbus are planning a joint team to study the issue, obviously they are not convinced that the air is safe.

  14. The enclosed suites with doors probably have approximately the same effect against covid spread as those little dividers between tables have in restaurants. Finally, an argument to use against all those “I don’t see the point of doors!” people!

  15. It requires testing to be done prior to flying to China, and then 14 days quarantine and multiple tests, very few cases in China so basically very good treatment available as well, I personally would feel okay to fly this, it is still better than UA and AA.

  16. My family and I flew on Delta over July 4th weekend. They did not block seating, they overbooked our flight and left us stranded in MSP. I will never fly Delta Airlines again.

  17. @lucky I know it’s your blog, and you have the right to say anything you want. I have been following OMAAT for 6 years. Great content and I read almost every post.

    However I hate to say that this kind of title frustrates me. You can simply put “China” instead of “One destination”. You got lots of loyal readers and, I really think this kind of click-bait tittle looks cheap. Just my two cents

  18. Delta should not do this now. The spread of COVID-19 has not slowed down at all. It is in fact spreading faster and distributing more widely than before across the country. No state has succeeded in stopping this, not New York, not Washington. The number of new cases remain at a scary level, albeit lower than before, in New York. CUOMO is just a big mouth doing nothing governor who is deep in the pocket of greedy lobbyists.

  19. @ MUGBEES — and yet New York has one of the lowest positivity rates in the entire nation. I don’t care what you think about Cuomo, but if you think New York is doing a bad job I’d hate to hear what you think about Arizona, Florida, or Texas.

  20. Yup as soon as demand picks up, DL jumps ship from it’s blocked middle seat BS. AA and UA were honest and up front, DL continues to lie to passengers.

  21. How much demand is there really between China and the U.S., especially with such stringent travel restrictions in place? I would expect there to be lots of empty seats even with just 2 weekly flights as many people who wish to travel are not able to do so right now…

  22. I honestly don’t think airlines should be compelled to block seats. Anyone that chooses to fly right now shouldn’t expect that the airline will have an empty seat next to them. Really, very few people MUST fly now. Those that CHOOSE to travel should expect flights to be full as they cut capacity.

  23. You bet it’s China for the skyrocketed fare.
    btw can’t they wet lease a 380?

  24. Just one data point but Delta fares have soared on the routes I fly because of the seat blocking and limited inventory so this delta Diamond has switched to AA which is a fraction of the price for the time being.

  25. People going to china are mostly Chinese. They take extra precautions when dealing with the virus. Why should they block any seats? When people arrived in China everyone need to be quarantined anyway. So no loss there. I think this make a lot of sense. No risk for Chinese society.

  26. I have no issue flying in a full business if config is 1-2-1. That’s enough space.

    It’s risk/benefit.

  27. If anything, this is a clear example the shows that DL is really only after the money. All of a sudden, the safety of passengers traveling to/from China is not important to DL.. LOL – Haven’t seen a bigger joke in years.. Now is the time for people to finally realize the crap they have been propagating under the disguise of ‘we put customers above everything else’.

  28. @Brian W

    Demand to China has been huge the entire summer due to severely curtailed flights since spring; one example is the large number of Chinese students heading back home from the US (Chinese students form the largest block of foreign students in the US). So much so that many have been going through Europe to get back to China; I traveled through AMS from the US in early summer and half the plane was filled with Chinese students as they could not go via the Pacific.
    Only recently have DL and UA been even allowed to resume flights and only at 2x weekly. And those flights have been booked to capacity since they came back online.

    @KS and others
    Delta has always said that they would start upgauging a route once they hit capacity limits or add more flights. But once again, they are limited to only 2x weekly here for the foreseeable future and they are already deploying their largest sized aircraft here (the 306 seat A359). Besides, they ARE STILL BLOCKING both premium economy and economy seats…if they cared only about the money, why haven’t they unblocked middle seats in the other cabins as they would have no problem filling those seats? As it is currently, those 2x weekly flights are pretty much sold out for the next few weeks at least.

  29. It is 75% in Delta One with 2 aisles. “Through Sept. 30, Delta will ensure more space for customers on all aircraft by capping seating at 50% in First Class and Delta One cabins with one aisle; 60% in Main Cabin, Delta Comfort+, and Delta Premium Select; and 75% in Delta One cabins with two aisles* to reduce the total number of customers on board.”

  30. What OMAT would be without our “beloved” detractors like sunviking82 and KS, who belittle any moves Delta makes lol

  31. Sure, it’s fair enough because as you said that it offers more privacy and space between passengers. Also, we have to remember that the Chinese border is closed to most people, so most of the people China bound are Chinese citizens looking to get back and US bound are US citizens looking to get back.

    Basically diplomats, Chinese green card holders, and if you hold a rare visa issued after the border closed are you allowed in China at the moment. That rare visa requires the approval from multiple government offices. Visas and residence permits are suspended. The key point is impact to China.

    As I said in another post, I don’t want to sound rude or use bad language but to be direct the blocking of middle seats is bullshit. It does not do anything to keep anyone safe. Airlines and hotels are in a tough spot recently. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t on every single thing they do. I read an article recently that the writer complained about a hotel group offering too much! However, it is not like the seats are two meters apart or that it has been proven that people are safer. When you fly you take the risk because you are in an enclosed space in very close distance with someone else. Wearing mask. Well something like this is different because this has been proven to be effective. Foreign airlines, particularly ones that had earlier outbreaks of the virus have not even blocked seats.

    China Eastern, for example, also flies between the US and China and so does Air China and I doubt they are blocking seats.

  32. Slightly off-topic, but I see that TPG is discontinuing its comments section. I hope OMAAT will not do the same.

  33. Please don’t use click-baity titles. It’s such a turn-off. Just tell us the deal without teasing for clicks.

  34. @iamhere,

    Will have to respectfully disagree. Every bit of distancing helps. Even six feet is not a magic number that will automatically guarantee that the virus will not be transmitted. All these measures (masks, blocked middle seats, cleaning planes more often, etc) all work in tandem to help reduce risk. Not a single one of them is a 100% failsafe solution. There are two ways that blocking middle seats help:
    i) as mentioned, any additional distance helps – having someone one seat away reduces the risk compared to having someone next to you, especially the viral load (of an infected person) which may be less the further you are from that person
    ii) by blocking middle seats, by default, there will be fewer people on the aircraft, which naturally means there is less chance of having an infected person aboard or close to you

  35. A somewhat good news for DL and other American carriers, money-wise, is the just published fact that China is going to allow more international flights from August on. I am referring of course to the reciprocity agreement between the US and China, that’s why. Among many other flights to the rest of the world, there will be 1 with CZ from Guangzhou to LAX and 1 with MU from SHA to JFK. Demand is still super strong into China.

  36. It makes total sense. There is more room in BC Suites than anywhere in coach. You could block two rows in front of your seat and behind, and still probably not have as much space and privacy. I thinks it’s great, and practical.

  37. I agree with the fact that there is more space and a door to help alleviate shoulder to shoulder! It’s not always about the money. Cudos to Delta for all they do! Wish more airlines would follow suit! I feel completely safe travelling Delta to anywhere in the world … just wish I could!

  38. I think it’s a good idea. Delta is my favorite airline and if they can fill up some already very private seats it’s a good thing.

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