I really have to take my hat off to Delta. They were first to announce a truly rigorous new cleaning regimen for even domestic flights. They were first among major U.S. airlines to extend elite status.
And now they’re doing something fairly remarkable, as first reported by Jason Rabinowitz. Delta is going to cap the number of seats they sell in each cabin of their aircraft through June 30, to promote social distancing. Delta will also require customers to wear face masks starting May 4.
— Jason Rabinowitz (@AirlineFlyer) April 30, 2020
The way that social distancing has worked on planes so far is airlines block their seat map and don’t let people assign themselves seats next to each other. On most flights there are plenty of empty rows these days, and everything works out.
However – and this is explicit policy on American and on United – if there are more passengers than seat assignments on a flight, they’ll unblock those middles. Airlines haven’t been limiting the number of seats they sell, just holding back from assigning middle seats unless they need to.
Delta is doing something different – they’re actually trying to limit the number of passengers on board each flight. They’re only doing this through June 30. They’ll sell up to 60% of capacity in each of their cabins, but only 50% in domestic first class, so each person can have an empty seat beside them.
A policy like this will not last. Aircraft are expensive to own and operate, which means their limited real estate comes at a high price. Distancing on planes is going to be really challenging in the future when travel comes back and there are more people on board. Giving more space to each person would mean much higher prices.
Bear in mind that if an empty seat next to you is important you can just buy one. And of course there are extra legroom seats and first class seats for purchase.
Ultimately however having a foot and a half of space between you and a seat opponent doesn’t give you nearly enough space to avoid catching something if that person is infectious. You’d need several rows of space, and that isn’t going to be in the offing.