Delta, Southwest, Alaska and JetBlue all limit the number of seats they’ll sell on a flight to varying degrees, promoting some on board social distancing. United, American, Spirit, and Allegiant do not.
On the latest Airlines Confidential podcast, journalist Seth Kaplan makes the case against blocking middle seats.
As a passenger I want the blocked middle seat. On the other hand I totally understand American Airlines’ thinking: look, we just told 19,000 people they’re about to be furloughed. How can we explain to them that we’re not doing everything possible to bring in every penny that we can if we’re under this financial stress?
I simply don’t see the argument that Seth is making here, that an airline is giving up on flying passengers and therefore needs fewer employees because they’re blocking middle seats or otherwise limiting the capacity of each flight. I think what he’s trying to say is that blocked middle seats mean less revenue and less revenue mean more furloughs but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
- Southwest Airlines is limiting capacity on each flight, and not furloughing employees, while the greatest furloughs are coming from American and United which are selling middle seats. There’s not a clear connection between selling middle seats and protecting jobs, if anything the opposite seems to be the case (even if there’s not direct causality).
- Airlines that are blocking middle seats don’t seem to be having greater revenue problems than those that aren’t. It’s not the case that their business is fine, while those airlines filling middle seas are hurting, but it’s doesn’t seem to be the case that Southwest and Delta are doing obviously worse than American and United.
- Limiting the number of seats you’ll sell on each flight means you get to enough demand more quickly either for a second flight (which means more employees flying) or a larger plane (which at least may mean more cabin crew).
There’s no clear connection between blocking middle seats and a need to furlough airline employees. If anything there’s an effect in the opposite direction.