Delta, JetBlue, Alaska and Southwest have all been limiting the number of seats they sell on each flight, so that sitting next to someone outside of your household isn’t necessary on board their planes.
United Airlines and American Airlines aren’t doing this, which means on comparable non-stop flights, or when you have to connect anyway, Delta, JetBlue, Alaska and Southwest all represent better value.
Currently Southwest and Alaska Airlines have committed to continue this practice through October 31. JetBlue has so far committed to do so through October 15.
Delta had previously said they’d keep doing it after September. And they’ve announced limits on the seats they’ll sell until January 6. However they’re playing games here, in fact they’re playing the game that American played before they stopped blocking seats altogether.
To avoid assigning any middle seats on a narrowbody aircraft with six seats across, that means blocking one-third of the seats in coach (67% load factor). Delta has been capping sales at 60% of the seats in coach. Starting October 1 they are going to be selling more seats, up to 75% of the seats in coach on each plane. That means filling each cabin 25% more than before.
On some flights middle seats will remain empty for solo travelers. Middle seats won’t be available to book for parties of 1 or 2 but since 2 people traveling together get a row to themselves it seems likely that the airline will run out of seats to assign on full flights and travelers will wind up in middles under this plan between October 1 and January 6.
Meanwhile starting October 1 Delta will no longer block seats in business class on widebody planes.
There’s some consumer benefit to what Delta is doing, and we don’t know yet whether Southwest and Alaska will continue their practice into November and December. (For October at least these two airlines will generally offer a better value than Delta.) However like so much of Delta there’s overclaiming, and an asterisk to their PR.