Delta Air Lines will lift all remaining capacity caps and start filling middle seats starting May 1 the Atlanta-based carrier confirmed on Wednesday. Delta’s chief executive, Ed Bastian said the decision had been reached after seeing the success of the mass vaccination program, coupled with evidence from various studies that point to the fact that the risk of transmission, even on a full plane, is just one in a million when people wear masks.
In recent months, Delta had been using the middle seat blocking policy to give it a competitive advantage over rivals, commanding higher yields from customers who were willing to pay more for added peace of mind.
But with consumers feeling more confident than ever to return to the skies it was only a matter of time before Delta dropped the policy. Delta has been the only major U.S. airline limiting passenger capacity since jetBlue lifted its capacity caps in January. jetBlue has also abandoned its pandemic era boarding policy.
“While Delta’s decision to block middle seats has given many customers a reason to choose Delta over the past year, the signature hospitality of our employees and the experiences they deliver to customers every day have also deepened their trust in our airline,” commented Bastian on Wednesday.
“The relationships we’ve built, together with the knowledge that nearly 65 percent of those who flew Delta in 2019 anticipate having at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by May 1, are what’s giving us the assurance to offer customers the ability to choose any seat on our aircraft,” he continued.
Delta introduced the middle seat block in April 2020 and kept up the policy even as others like Southwest dropped similar initiatives citing scientific studies.
American Airlines never routinely blocked middle seats and in recent days has been reporting customer load factors of nearly 80 percent across its domestic network. On Sunday, more than 1.57 million people passed through TSA airport security checkpoints – the highest number since the start of the pandemic last March.
Along with filling middle seats, Delta will also introduce more snack and drink options on domestic and select short-haul international flights starting April 14. The new service remains pared back compared to pre-pandemic service but customers will soon be able to choose from a selection of single-serve drinks and snacks.
While U.S. airlines are gearing up to fly more passengers than at any time during the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to advise Americans to avoid all non-essential travel.
CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky defended the guidance earlier this week following criticism that the advice was out of touch with the success of the vaccine rollout and lower infection rates.
Dr Walensky said she feared “impending doom” during a White House Coronavirus press conference, inciting travel as a particular area of concern.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.