Delta Will Keep Blocking Middle Seats Through September 30th – Other Airlines Won’t

Delta has pledged to continue to block middle seats through September 30.

  • Coach won’t be sold to more than 60% of capacity, to allow middle seat blocking. People in the same household who wish to sit together may continue to do so of course – and this is a great opportunity for extra space, book an aisle and window and share the seat between you for free.

  • Domestic first class won’t be sold to more than 50% of capacity. That way every first class seat has an empty first class seat beside it. Delta is actually giving customers a reason to buy up, since they aren’t giving up distancing by doing so.

  • Automatic upgrades will start again June 10. They’d only be handling upgrades at the gate to ensure they didn’t go over the caps in first class. Now they’ve automated that, so they can process upgrades in advance.

JetBlue has committed to block middle seats through July 6. American Airlines is capping the number of seats they sell, but not low enough to avoid assigning middles. United isn’t capping seats at all, their CEO echoes Michael O’Leary of Ryanair when he says “airplanes don’t have social distancing.”

Delta is also working towards electrostatic spraying to disinfect planes between every flight, there are still airports that lack the devices but that’s expected to change this summer. Most airlines are only doing this once per day overnight. And Delta is even working to get it done at TSA checkpoints, too.

One Mile at a Time wonders if Delta is doing this to position for another government bailout, because they’re being so consumer-friendly. And while the President won’t want to see mass layoffs one month before the election and airline lobbyists have begun to suggest the idea of a second round of funding, I don’t think that’s plausible.

  • Delta’s middle seat blocking and cleaning differentiate it from the industry, while it’s industry-wide practice that’s going to influence public opinion.

  • Republicans were skeptical of the first bailout. Grown ups in the Democratic economic establishment view airline bailouts as destructive. The argument that won was saving jobs, but job cuts are actually coming by mid-July even if workers get paid through September.

Instead it does seem like Delta is positioning itself to grow and capture market share, offering “[o]n routes where increasing customer demand is driving flight loads closer to our caps, we will look for opportunities to upsize to a larger aircraft type or add more flying.”

United thinks they can break even with just a 50% return in demand which is the level we’re already seeing in Chian. They’ll do that as a much smaller airline, packing in passengers.

Delta seems more focused on long run offering value to passengers, making them feel comfortable returning to the air, and choosing Delta when they do.

These are both strategies to make it to the other side of the crisis, but as long as both airlines do make it Delta’s seems likely to offer greater future returns.

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. Delta has collateral to give for loans; AA/UA do not. Thus the difference in service levels. Delta ought to raise the bar as much as possible to either a) provide differentiation or b) run the other guys into bankruptcy court.

  2. Waiting for the first social post of a packed DL plane. It will happen and DL will look like the liars they have become. Also, DL isn’t in THAT good of shape; about to lose thier investment and partner in LATAM (they will liquidate before the end of the year many now believe) ; losing investment and partners in Virgin Atlantic and Australia and other investments in AreoMexico and Korean Air have gone up in smoke. We will see how long these “centered seats” are truly blocked.

  3. This is nuts! The airlines are losing $50 million a day, accepting taxpayer bailout and will begin layoffs October 1. They (all airlines) need to sell as many of seats as possible.

  4. Your story re DL is exactly why I walked away from AA in 2019, as the difference with DL over AA is like day and night. For example, just between ORD-LGA in FC:
    -actually a complete lunch tray (entire, salad, dessert).
    -cocktail service throughout entire flight, starting upon boarding.
    -full, comfortable seats w/foot and reclining space.
    -competent, polite, hard working FAs.

    If I had to return to LAX, I am tempted to fly ORD-SLC-LAX. DL has deservedly come a long way from being the principal carrier to ATL, let alone Monroe and Shreveport. I have no mercy for AA or UA, as arrogantly ignoring F&B on domestic routes does not cut it for me.

  5. @sunviking82 – they have made a commitment that UA/AA can’t/won’t – so where do you think the “packed” plane is going to come from? 30 rows of 3 or 6 person families?

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