Can These Two Airline Claims Both Be True?

Can both of these pandemic-era airline ‘facts’ be true at the same time?

  • The last airlines to block seats are Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines (premium coach seats only). Delta stops blocking middle seats on May 1. Alaska’s blocking runs through May 31. Blocking middle seats was unnecessary with downward airflow, HEPA air filtration, and masking anyway.

  • Airlines can’t serve meals up front, or sell food or alcoholic beverages in economy, because it’s important to limit contact between flight attendants and passengers for employee safety (and even sometimes block seats for flight attendant protection, too).

I’ll leave it to you to solve for the equilibrium.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. My guess: it’s all about $$$.

    Airlines claim “Blocking middle seats was unnecessary” because they want more seats to sell and fill – more revenue.

    They also claim they “can’t serve meals up front, or sell food or alcoholic beverages in economy” because they want to reduce costs. Not sure if the buy-on-board items were profitable.

  2. Well. Alaska just brought back a lot of food into Y and full meals to Hawaii.

    Almost the way there on in flight service. The only remaining item is full meals system wide in F class.

  3. People can sit closer to each other with masks mandated.

    Serving food and drinks would invalidate the mask usage, therefore these two complement each other, not contradict.

  4. Other than the CDC, who really needs a PR firm verses just putting press releases out on a whim, the middle seat is a hoax, cleaner planes, air circulation and masks help limit exposure. As for food, early on it was a safety issue, then a cost issue, now it’s coming back in a new and better way IMO.

  5. The CDC also said that the chances of getting covid from surface contact was very rare but airlines have been touting increased cleaning practices during the pandemic. Some airlines will slowly but certainly return to their old unclean ways. There are many valid reasons for increased surface cleaning in high contact communal spaces like airplane cabins – but covid was not one of them. The increased use of disposables throughout western economies will not roll back. Covid has succeeded at creating a long term doubt about the cleanliness of fellow humans.

  6. @ovacikar says: “People can sit closer to each other with masks mandated. Serving food and drinks would invalidate the mask usage, therefore these two complement each other, not contradict.”

    I think that’s the best argument for these two policies being consistent. One argument against it is that people can still bring their own food on board, but on the other hand only a small percentage of people actually do bring food, whereas almost everyone takes at least some items from the meal/drinks service.

    But I have a feeling that if these two policies hurt rather than helped the bottom line, the airlines would do if differently.

  7. How is it that restaurants can safely serve sit in patrons but it’s too dangerous for the airlines? I’m at Chipotle now. The line is back to the door. This one store will serve more people over the lunch hour than the number of people on most planes. The safety argument is bullshit. It’s a combination of cost cutting and a lazy union.

  8. I’ve only had to take six flights since everything shut down last March, and they have all been on Delta. I was a DL loyalist before, but this was the first time I noticed a hefty fare premium for each of my “main cabin” reservations compared to UA and AA.

    I know the middle seat blocking did little to limit the spread (thankfully, two of those flights were post-vaccination and the other four were in a period where case counts were at their lowest) but it still made me feel safer on board. The reduced F&B offering also made me happy as it meant masks were staying on more.

    Incidentally, I ended up being far less concerned as to whether or not my upgrades processed, as there were some flights I would have normally applied a certificate or paid with cash or points to avoid landing in C+. However, C+ with a blocked middle seat and no real difference in catering made the upgrades to F hardly worth it.

    All in all, I’m happy with Delta’s pandemic approach though I know others who differ.

  9. Delta blocked First Class (FC) seats too, and that was nice. However, Delta’s FC service during the pandemic was anemic at best. I flew Delta FC last weekend and received a box snack and a canned cocktail. I find that incredibly weak for a premium airline.

    The previous week we were able to fly JetBlue Mint, and it was worth every last cent over Delta. A hot meal and attentive cabin staff on JetBlue. A wide variety of beverages were offered as well. The cappuccino was just as good as any coffee house. For me JetBlue solved the equilibrium.

    I’m in the Big D and I certainly wish both JetBlue and Alaska Airlines offered more flights to more destinations from here.

  10. @1KBrad I hope this is sarcasm. The NIH maintains a database that contains a crackpot theory published in a non-peer reviewed journal. It does not mean the NIH endorses the hypothesis.

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