While JetBlue has announced it will extend its seat blocking policy, it has also revealed it will be further scaling it back, before eliminating it altogether in early 2021. Let’s talk about how that’s being done.
What is JetBlue’s seat blocking policy?
JetBlue is one of the four major US airlines (along with Alaska, Delta, and Southwest) that has for the most part been blocking middle seats during the pandemic. Understandably the policy has become significantly less generous over time, as more people are flying. Here’s how JetBlue’s policy has evolved:
- Through October 15, 2020, JetBlue blocked seats so that no one sat next to a stranger; that meant middle seats on Airbus aircraft were blocked, while aisle seats on Embraer aircraft were blocked
- Between October 16 and December 1, 2020, JetBlue is capping capacity on flights at 70%, meaning that some people may sit next to a stranger, but most people won’t
- Between December 2, 2020, and January 7, 2021, JetBlue will be capping capacity on flights at 85%, meaning that some people may not have seatmates, while others will
- As of January 8, 2021, JetBlue will no longer be blocking seats, so flights will be sold to 100% of capacity
JetBlue will stop blocking seats in early 2021
Ending seat blocking was inevitable
Blocking middle seats has been a great way for airlines to differentiate themselves, and personally I’ve recommended people go out of their way to book an airline that blocks seats:
- For one, it’s always more comfortable to have an empty seat next to you
- While airplanes in general are one of the safest spaces you can be indoors thanks to good mask compliance and HEPA filters, you’re still at least marginally safer having a couple of feet distance from someone than just a few inches
That being said, for airlines it simply hasn’t been sustainable to keep blocking seats:
- This wasn’t too costly when the pandemic first started, and flights were nowhere near full
- Not only has demand for travel picked up, but airlines have adjusted capacity to better reflect demand, meaning load factors on flights have gotten higher
- When you look at the financial results of the major airlines, unfortunately airlines that were blocking seats largely weren’t getting a sufficient revenue premium to justify this from a business perspective
The truth is that when seat blocking was introduced, it was all about making people feel comfortable about flying again. At this point:
- Many people feel comfortable flying again, middle seats blocked or not
- Those who don’t feel comfortable flying clearly aren’t swayed by middle seats being blocked, since they’ve been blocked for the past many months
It’s hard for airlines to justify blocking seats when the demand is there
JetBlue is continuing to modify its seat blocking policy. The airline has gone from blocking seats so that no one sits next to a stranger, to capping capacity at 70%, to capping capacity at 85%, to no longer blocking middle seats as of early 2021.
It’s pretty clear that by early 2021 all major US airlines will stop blocking seats, and I can’t blame them. They’re not achieving a sufficient revenue premium to justify it, and airlines will struggle to cut losses if they can’t fill all seats when the demand is there.
Are you surprised to see JetBlue ending its seat blocking policy?