Southwest Airlines Blocking Seats Through November 30

Filed Under: Southwest

Southwest Airlines has announced plans to continue blocking seats on flights all the way through November 30, 2020.

Southwest Airlines blocking seats through November 30

In early May, Southwest Airlines began capping how many seats it would 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 June 30. Then in mid-June it was announced that seats would be blocked all the way through September 30. Then in late July it was announced that seats would be blocked all the way through October 31. Now it has been announced that Southwest Airlines will be capping capacity on flights all the way through November 30, 2020.

Southwest Airlines is blocking seats through November 30

How do other airlines’ seat blocking policies compare?

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

  • Through September 30, 2020, Delta is capping flights at about 60% of capacity; Delta will continue blocking seats through January 6, 2021, though in a somewhat scaled back way
  • Through October 15, 2020, JetBlue is guaranteeing you won’t sit next to a stranger
  • Through October 31, 2020, Alaska is blocking middle seats

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 November 2020. This is something that Alaska, Delta, JetBlue, and Southwest, have all done a great job with. It’s great to see this trend continue, and now Southwest is the airline officially blocking middle seats without exception the furthest out.

Based on the flights I’ve taken since coronavirus started, I’d absolutely go out of my way to book an airline that blocks middle seats.

If you’re flying in the coming months, is blocking of seats impacting your airline choice?

  1. The way I see it, these airlines are officially blocking middle seats because most of their planes weren’t even reaching 2/3rds capacity anyways. Both Delta and Southwest’s policies include Thanksgiving, which is normally a very busy travel period which would normally see flights starting to fill up by now. If airlines saw that their planes were getting full regularly, they wouldn’t leave 1/3 of the seats empty, especially when they’re bleeding cash every day.

    However, with so few people booking flights, they see that it’s unlikely they will fill up all their flights, even for the holidays. Advertising no middle seats is now, I think, a way to lure people in to fly with them over other airlines that may not guarantee that space (even if the extra space is minimal). This way the airlines can at least guarantee their flights will at least go out 2/3rds full.

  2. This is all marketing spin.

    Both to the consumer, “hey look empty seats”, and to shareholders, “hey look we were doing a public service so this is why we couldn’t sell 100% capacity”.

  3. All of that said, I still do appreciate the guarantee of open middle seats. Granted my next flight booked with Southwest is juuuuuust after November 30th, so lucky me I guess lol

  4. I flew Southwest about a month ago. Sure, no one needed to sit next to a stranger, but the most noticeable difference I observed was the speed of boarding. Less lingering in the aisles and hunting for overhead bin space, since most bins now only need to accommodate two passengers instead of three.

  5. I fly on AA and their planes are generally packed. I think that DL and WN, unlike AA, are financially strong enough to get away with blocking middle seats. I can’t imagine what losses at AA would look like if the airline was capping plane capacity at 60%.

  6. Most of you that are claiming their flights must be mostly empty are wrong. Many flights I have looked at are sold out (with the caps) and a couple of flights that I am confirmed on have been upgraded to larger aircraft. Now if you’re flying to some remote city in the middle of nowhere, then sure the flights may be empty.

  7. On Southwest, I’m always surprised at how many a-holes, sorry, are cramming bags in the overhead space when checked bags are FREE.

  8. @Business Guy

    Yeah it is a marketing spin but it is also a real way to get bookings. Many say the planes are not more than 2/3 rds full anyway. Not necessarily . United and American have had plenty of flights were you do not have an empty seat next to you. Or some people do have an empty seat and others do not. But on Southwest you are assured to have one.
    Even if the virus was not going on tell me you don’t enjoy an empty seat next to you. Also found that if booked somewhat in advance Southwest fares are very competitive. Overall i think this is a smart move for Southwest.

  9. “Some spacing between people is better than no spacing”

    You have to stop with this. I know it feels good “in your gut,” but it’s scientifically untrue in many/most situations. Especially in a long-duration airline flight, an extra 12 inches of theoretical space would almost certainly have no impact on infection rates.

  10. Ben,

    I’m almost certain that you didn’t read the actual “study.” First of all, it wasn’t even a study, it was a model. It was a model based on the best assumptions of the model-makers (i.e. it was done in good faith), but it is so riddled with assumptions as to be almost useless (e.g. a seatback is 75% as effective as having a plexiglass partition between seats). There was no real scientific data to support the assumptions. It hasn’t been peer-reviewed. It was not borne out by cross-checking the assumptions versus the results on actual airline flights. It doesn’t really pass the minimum hurdle for being able to be relied upon.

    In fact, the Business Insider article (also not a scientific journal) says explicitly in the article:

    “contact tracing for several long-haul flights early in the pandemic that had COVID-19-positive passengers on board…found no on-board transmission on both flights.”

    I’m not aware of any proven, extreme transmission on airplanes (I’d guess there is some). We’ve read all about transmission at weddings, frat parties, and choir rehearsals, but suspiciously not airplanes. In fact, early on there was speculation that airplanes might be less infectious because of the exceptional air circulation.

    Listen, I’m not an anti-masker or COVID-hoaxer or any other thing, but if we’re going to say that science should govern our approach, we have to let science govern our approach. Gut instinct is all-too-often wrong–especially in complex, multi-faceted, scientific interactions. You can’t say that “my gut says that an empty middle seat is important” without any evidence for that statement. I was on a United 777 last week with every seat full. I’d suspect that it was not the only one in the last month. If there were huge numbers of infections being caused by that , we would have heard about them. It’s certainly possible that we may hear about it in the future, but, again, we can’t use anything as a basis for decisions except for what we know now (and be willing to change our approach as evidence dictates).

  11. @tom – meh, people will continue to shop based on loyalty and/or cost. those who are truly frightened of the big bad boogey man won’t fly

  12. I suspect that many book on WN and DL because of the extra room allowed by having middle seats empty and not so much the worry about COVID. If I wasn’t a top elite on AA I certainly would be booking DL. Legroom means very little when you have a 300 pound flyer’s personage coming into your personal space.

    Last week I was in seat 10AM on an AA 321, far more legroom than any first class seat. As boarding was completed and it looked like the middle seat was going to be empty a man that weighed no less than 350 pounds sat in the middle seat (he was also a good 6’5”). Luckily for me and the guy in the aisle the gate agent came onboard with boarding passes for us for a first class seat. I don’t want to appear mean but myself and Mr. Aisle look at each other with a sigh of relief.

  13. I flew SW in July. BUF to DEN. 43 people on the way out and 49 on the way home. Plenty of room to spread out. Boarding was easy and spaced out. Unfortunately, the second the plane came to a halt everyone jumped to their feet and crammed the aisle. I hate that under any circumstances.

  14. @Business Guy
    Your right about cost / loyalty being the driving factor. Also those that are overly frightened regarding the virus won’t travel.
    I just like having an empty seat next to me. So Southwest makes sense.

  15. I am extremely concerned about the middle seat block being dropped as I fly 8 days after the change. Trust me if I didn’t have to fly I wouldn’t be but I don’t have a choice. Im shocked with the increase in cases and SW changes it now. Hope they rethink it and leave it going until vaccines. My husband says it’s all about the money!!!!!

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