Home Industry News U.S. Airlines’ Middle Seat Mambo

U.S. Airlines’ Middle Seat Mambo

U.S airlines take different approaches to social distancing in the air

Some airlines are blocking middle seats through September 30 to facilitate social distancing
Some airlines are blocking middle seats through September 30 to facilitate social distancing
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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.

Alaska Airlines

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.

American Airlines

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 Airlines

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 Airlines

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.

United Airlines

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.

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Award-winning travel writer and economist Paul Rubio is a credit card enthusiast, whose sophisticated use of points and rewards has helped him travel to 132 countries for free. Paul is a Harvard graduate with a master’s degree in public administration and a master’s degree in economics. He also holds a bachelor’s degree from Boston University with a double major in economics and environmental policy and a minor in conservation biology. He attended both undergraduate and graduate schools on full scholarships. Paul worked in the field of wildlife conservation before embracing his writing talents full-time in 2008. Since then, he has won more than two dozen national awards for his exemplary work in travel journalism. The prolific writer contributes to a number of top-tier international, national, and regional publications including Condé Nast Traveler, Florida Design, Fodors.com, Palm Beach Illustrated, and Robb Report.