Despite record numbers of COVID-19 cases, airlines are back in the air and have no plans to ground planes once again. To help restore faith in flying, each major U.S. airline has pledged a commitment to health and safety in the skies and implemented new procedures to carry out these promises. Most new sanitization procedures are quite similar across airlines—electrostatic spraying, enhanced air filtration systems, more frequent cleaning of high touch point areas, the requirement of face masks, etc. Yet a major difference lies in how each airline is treating social distancing. Some will block middle seats throughout summer in the name of social distancing while others plan to pack their planes. Here’s where each major U.S. airline stands.
At press time, Alaska Airlines is blocking middle seats and capping flights “to allow for extra space between guests not traveling together” until July 31, 2020. However, upon booking flights for August 2020, we noticed middle seats still blocked, indicating this policy is likely to continue throughout summer.
Starting July 1, American Airlines stopped blocking middle seats and ended capacity controls. So, don’t be surprised to see summer your flight packed to capacity. As a courtesy, until the end of September the airline “will continue to notify customers and allow them to move to more open flights when available, all without incurring any cost.” In addition, “If space is available once boarding is complete — taking into consideration any aircraft weight or balance restrictions — customers may move to another seat within their ticketed cabin subject to availability.”
Delta has “[extended their] commitment to make more space for safer travel by blocking the selection of middle seats and capping seating in every cabin through September 30th. Seating is capped at: 50% in First Class and domestic Delta One; 60% in Main Cabin, Delta Comfort+, and Delta Premium Select; and 75% in international Delta One.”
Though JetBlue has so far announced blocking middle seats through July 31, 2020, tickets we have purchased for later in the summer indicate this policy will continue. For example, on a recently purchased flight between Boston and Fort Lauderdale in late August, all middle seats had been taken out of inventory as well as several rows.
Southwest has made a promise to keep “middle seats open through at least September 30 to provide Customers more personal space onboard.” That said, customers traveling together can still sit together in a single row.
As if United Airlines didn’t already have a reputation for putting its customers last, the airline’s failure to ever block middle seats or reduce capacity has again demonstrated that the airline’s bottom line is more important than passenger health and safety. As per usual, expect packed planes and no extra social distancing.