Southwest Airlines Blocking Seats All Summer

Filed Under: Southwest

Southwest Airlines has announced plans to continue blocking seats on flights throughout summer.

Southwest Airlines blocking seats through September 30

In early May, Southwest Airlines began capping how many seats they’d sell on a particular flight to around 67% of capacity.

While Southwest markets this as “blocking middle seats,” in reality Southwest Airlines has open seating, so that’s not quite how it works. This means that:

  • There’s still open seating, there’s simply no need for anyone to sit in a middle seat
  • Families or people traveling together can still choose to sit next to one another, if they’d like

Initially these seating caps were in place through the end of June, but Southwest Airlines now plans to block middle seats through September 30, 2020. That covers the entire summer, and should give people flying Southwest some added comfort and peace of mind.

Southwest Airlines is blocking seats through September 30

How do other airlines’ seat blocking policies compare?

Here in the US, Delta, JetBlue, and Southwest, are the three airlines doing a good job with seat blocking. In addition to the Southwest policy mentioned above:

Other US airlines have much less straightforward policies, largely focused on not assigning adjoining seats in advance, rather than actually limiting capacity.

Obviously even blocked middle seats don’t allow for proper social distancing, but the idea is twofold:

  • Some spacing between people is better than no spacing
  • More than anything else this is about making people feel comfortable flying again; right now many people simply don’t “feel” safe when they’re so close to someone for extended periods of time

JetBlue is also blocking seats on flights

Bottom line

Southwest Airlines will only sell two thirds of the seats on flights through the end of September 2020. This is something that Delta, JetBlue, and Southwest, have all done a great job with (with Delta and Southwest having the policy for a couple of extra months compared to JetBlue).

If you were to fly this summer, would blocked seat policies impact your airline choice?

Comments
  1. I do wonder in this respect and Jetblue whether airlines can actually fill the planes that reliably, or this is all PR. Like, do load numbers suggest they’d fill the plane ?

  2. I’m sorry, but we have to call this what it is, PR pure and simple…I won’t lie, it’s PR that is great for the customer, but it has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with keeping anyone safe…Airline customers love getting something that we haven’t paid for be it, First Class, being given the extra legroom section without being charged, arguing our way out of paying the checked bag fee etc etc etc…This is simply an extension of that, “I paid for 1 seat and for 2″…

  3. This is socially responsible for now. While not the most environmentally responsible, I believe Southwest is taking the right approach for now.

    Since they are only selling 67%, are they able to operate flights with 1 fewer flight attendant?

    Flying on a plane is still a huge risk to take during a pandemic, and I don’t think people should be flying unless necessary, but reducing 1/3 of passengers can help limit, not eliminate the risk.

  4. Sharon says “Flying on a plane is still a huge risk to take during a pandemic.” But it’s not actually – it’s a similar risk to many other activities, like going to the grocery store, getting a hair cut, or going to a restaurant.

    This is a marketing ploy and nothing more. An empty middle seat is not social distancing. If airlines want to be serious about this, then they should enforce the everyone-must-wear a mask policy. Including denied boarding and diversions if necessary.

    Mask-wearing is the single most important thing to both reduce the risk of virus spread and to allow economic activity. Yet apparently it is a massive infringement of constitutional rights or something.

  5. This article and headline are basically about Southwest which has no first class seating, a two checked bag policy, and reasonable airfares. Not the cheapest, reasonable. If you choose an Ultra Low Cost Carrier you may have one flight per day several days a week, hardly what I call service. Southwest generally has several flights per day and is miles ahead of some others.

  6. “Flying on a plane is still a huge risk to take during a pandemic,”
    While you are welcome to your opinion, that’s not a credible statement when conditions vary greatly on a global scale, and risks vary too. And as far as whether my travel is necessary or not, I’ll have that discussion with my health care provider and use my own judgment, which while not infallible has served we well. I don’t mean to pick on you, but too many people here think it is their responsibility to tell others how they shou act, when they know nothing about the person or their situation.

  7. @Steve “Trust me, everyone on those blocked seats planes are paying for the empty seats.”

    So far not the case at WN. I have reservations through the end of their booking period into 2021. Prices are similar to or lower than before COVID. Probably won’t last but still sweet deals to be had.

  8. Delta is charging significantly more for the route I fly pretty often. Usually I can snag a main cabin seat for $200 but now prices are around $350 or more. Blocking the middle seats is simply a PR stunt. Imagine how much higher prices would be if they were truly implementing social distancing by blocking the rows in front and behind you.

  9. I flew Southwest this past weekend, Denver to Buffalo and back. Eastbound (Thurs) had 60 px, Westbound (Sun) had 68. I ran straight to the back and had a whole row to myself. Not bad!

    The FA’s were trying to hold on to the last few rows, although technically only the very last row is for them.

    Everyone wore their masks during the flight. The Denver airport was probably the weak link in the whole thing….despite Masks Required signs, you could tell there were ~10% of all travelers either refusing to wear a mask, holding a mask in their hand, or wearing a mask while only covering their mouth.

    Everyone was spread apart pretty well, except for the train connecting terminals at DEN and the off-airport parking shuttle. (you can park in the terminal without using a shuttle for $17/day.) There’s an inconvenient way to walk between terminals and there should have been signs pointing you to that option in the event you’d like to avoid the train. Parking shuttle – a dozen or so crammed into a shuttle, with two people putting on ski mask only after seated, and two other guys wearing paper masks without covering their noses……maybe a little uncomfortable here.

    I personally had a light/medium case of COVID in April, so am less personally worried about travel. Based on this trip, I’d say it was “mostly safe.” The question for travelers is how close to 100% safe are they willing to be in order to travel.

    I have heard of other airlines, like AA, filling up their planes, running cramped regional birds, and who know what mask compliance looks like in places like DFW…..that could be a much different equation.

  10. and btw, I booked a few weeks in advance….$200 cash purchase or like 16,000 RR points which I converted off of Chase points so that was a really great value. Only reasonable way to get from Colorado to Buffalo as well…..options would have been super long layovers, 2+ stops, hopskotching all over the map. Cutting out Chicago as an east-west transit hub really cuts out a lot of choice. SWA seems to be running LOTS of routes today.

  11. I’m leaving Milwaukee to Las Vegas nonstop tomorrow for less than $200 roundtrip though I never just go by price. I go by schedule.

  12. @steve
    No on southwest we are not paying for the empty seat.
    Phx – Bur $49 each way
    Phx Mdw $99 each way.
    I’ve scheduled both.
    Yes booked at least 2 weeks out just like before. And just like before last minute is more expensive.
    In fact when you look at flight schedules for Southwest a specific flight may say not available. That is because it has reached the load factor they want to book too. Then if people cancel that flight will show availability.

    I believe Southwest is doing the best they can and when the dust settles will have even more of the domestic market share then before.

  13. I got FLL BWI BOS for $65 one-way. Not a bad deal at all. I don’t think Southwest is making us pay for those empty middle seats.

  14. Sharon, no, the number of flight attendants is based on the number of available seats, not the number of occupied seats (1 per 50 minimum). If they were to physically block or remove seats, they could lessen the number of flight attendants, but that’s the only way.

  15. Worth mentioning I am pretty sure Alaska Air is in that good group of airlines as well. I flew SJC-SEA roundtrip last month and the return flight was just about exactly 50% capacity on the E175. I have a feeling it could have been more full had Alaska allowed it, but I can’t prove it. The aisle seats were not taken, only the middle seats (except a few couples onboard).

  16. Oops, I meant only the window seats were taken. No middle seats on that plane 🙂

  17. @Bob – I liked your post, and agree with paragraphs one and three, but not the 2nd para. According to everything I’ve read, 6 feet of distance is the general guidance, but not necessarily foolproof in practice. 3 feet isn’t ideal, or as good a 6 of course, but is still at lot better than the 6-12 inches of distance you’d get without blocked middle seats.
    So, I think the Delta, Jet Blue and SW policies are about more than PR.
    But please let me know if I’ve missed one of the distancing stories/studies. That’s certainly possible!

  18. As a caregiver for my parents, I have had to fly on two Southwest flights during Covid-19 restrictions and have been very imptessed by this airline’s efforts to encourage social distancing & minimize risks for spread of coronavirus. However, my main concern was crowding by passengers as we were waiting to disembark the plane at terminal. While I was trying to stand back 6′ from person in front, passengers behind me were practically breathing down my throat and refused to space 6′ apart. Also, a lot of passengers weren’t wearing masks properly. Maybe the airlines should require passengers to wait to stand up until passengers in front start to move forward. Some people are just very inconsiderate and have to be reminded of the risks by not social distancing.

  19. Good for a sensible airline like Southwest. But… this policy may work side by side but what if there’s a superspreader in the seat right in front of you, less than 36-inches from your head? Is the evacuation of air different now to minimize breath going from front to back and vice versa? And how strict is the mask-on policy?

  20. Your statement “Southwest Airlines will only sell two thirds of the seats on flights through the end of September 2020” – is not fully accurate based on my experience. Southwest booted me from the flights I had booked DEN-SLC and back and “reaccommodated” me on flights at worse times because they failed to enforce their own 67% limits. I thought they had cancelled the flights I had booked, but after speaking with multiple agents they confirmed I was booted and they could not put me back on my original flights, even though they were not cancelled and they’re still flying them. The agents could not tell me what criteria they used to select who gets booted, but I suspect it was based on fare price. I booked on May 17, so they don’t seem to know how to actually limit bookings to 67% of seats. After complaining, my boyfriend and I were each offered $50 in vouchers. Very frustrating for my first SW booking in a while.

  21. I have nothing positive to say about southwest. I’m glad they are taking these precautions to protect everyone.

    Keep it, remember you can’t make everyone happy. If you don’t like it drive. Lol

  22. I have nothing but positive things to say about southwest. I’m glad they are taking these precautions to protect everyone.

    Keep up the great customer service, remember you can’t make everyone happy. If you don’t like it drive. Lol

  23. Okay, i JUST flew 4 legs on American thru major airports. First off, the flights were PACKED!! All middle seats taken. Very little in the way of “precautions” were seen or discussed. One little “masks must be worn on the flight,” was said over the microphone, did everyone wear them…..? absolutely not.
    With that said, i’m super intrigued by Southwest X’ing out middle seats and even heard Frontier was taking pre-boarding temperatures!! American Airlines did nothing basically.

    PS: whatever happened to boarding from the back?? that makes sense in a non-covid world right!?

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