Freaked out about full flights during a pandemic? These airlines are still blocking seats – for now
That was so February.
The coronavirus crisis instantly turned traveler attention to all things health and safety, with the latest flash point being how to effectively social distance at 35,000 feet.
With travel slowly resuming, American Airlines on Wednesday ended its policy of blocking half the middle seats in economy class, drawing the wrath of health officials and politicians including Vermont senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders even though United, Spirit and Allegiant were already filling as many seats as they can sell.
United Airlines President Scott Kirby and the head of the airline industry's trade group insist there's no way to keep passengers six feet apart on a plane.
Another United executive, chief communications officer Josh Earnest, went so far Wednesday as to label seat blocking a marketing ploy.
“Blocking middle seats is a PR strategy, not a safety strategy,’’ he said in a call with reporters.
Noticeably absent in the open middle seat debate: the CEOs of Southwest and Delta, which have each committed to operating less full flights through Sept. 30.
The headline on Delta's reminder last week about the policy remaining in place throughout the (usually) busy summer travel season: "Setting the standard for safer travel.''
On Wednesday, the airline issued another reminder on Twitter.
Southwest Airlines regularly touts its social distancing policy, too.
Those airlines, and others still blocking seats, are betting that it will give them a competitive edge, especially among skittish travelers and those spooked by viral posts about full flights.
The policies won't be in place forever because financially devastated airlines say they can't afford to leave a bunch of seat opens as travel demand rebounds.
For now, several airlines, including JetBlue, Alaska and Frontier, are still limiting the number of passengers per flight. Keep in mind that the policies vary by carrier, with some airlines blocking more seats than others and some social distancing policies set to expire soon unless extended.
These U.S. airlines are still blocking seats in the name of social distancing
Delta Air Lines
Policy: Seating is capped at 60% in the main cabin, Delta Comfort+ and Delta Premium Select, and 50% in first class and domestic Delta One cabins. On Delta One international flights, seating is capped at 75%. Delta is also not allowing passengers to select a middle seat online or its Fly Delta app and some aisle seats on its smaller aircraft with no middle seats.
Effective until: Sept. 30
Policy:The airline is booking flights to 2/3 capacity, effectively leaving middle seats open. Southwest doesn't assign seats so passengers can sit anywhere on the plane when they board, but flight attendants encourage travelers to keep the middle seats open unless they want to sit with a family member or friend.
Effective until: Sept. 30
5 flights in 4 weeks: What it's really like to fly Southwest during the pandemic
Policy: The airline is blocking middle seats on larger aircraft and most aisle seats on smaller planes. The airline says it is managing passenger seat assignments "to help ensure as much personal space as possible.''
Effective until: Sept. 8ly 31
Policy: Flights are capped at 65%, and middle seats are blocked.
Effective until: July 31
Policy: The budget airline is blocking approximately 20 seats on every flight, and they are blocked out on the airline's seat map when booking. Frontier's planes have been 186 and 230 seats. Frontier is the only U.S. airline taking passengers' temperatures before they board.
Effective until: Aug. 31
Policy: The airline is only selling up to 70% of its seats.
Effective until: August 31