Delta Air Lines will become the last U.S.-based airline to abandon its pandemic era middle seat blocking policy on Saturday but chief executive Ed Bastian says travelers shouldn’t expect a return to ‘normal’ just yet. “We’re still operating in a pandemic,” Bastian says as the Atlanta-based carrier gears up for what could turn out to be a busy summer.
Although Bastian insists that many of the things that have changed over the last year are here to stay (for the time being at least), May 1 will also mark the easing or complete removal of other COVID protocols including tearing up social distancing floor stickers in jetways and in Delta Sky Clubs.
Delta’s chief customer experience officer Bill Lentsch says the floor markers are being ripped up to fit more passengers in its airport spaces. The radical change in policy comes off the back of research Delta commissioned that shows 75 per cent of its customers expect to be vaccinated by the summer.
Along with a strict face mask policy, mass vaccination is a key factor in Delta’s decision making to lift capacity caps on its planes. The airline took a gamble that customers would be willing to pay a premium for socially distanced seating at the peak of the pandemic but more revenue can be generated by filling every seat.
Delta even created a Global Cleanliness team in response to the pandemic but another change taking effect tomorrow will be to cut the amount of electrostatic disinfectant spraying of aircraft interiors to just once per day. The airline had previously sprayed its planes during every turnaround.
The change follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance and Lentsch says its policies have evolved along with the scientific understanding of how COVID-19 is spread.
Delta has already brought back some elements of its onboard service on domestic flights, although contactless payment and sealed single-serve beverages are a nod to the pandemic. Other changes to a more normal onboard service won’t come until later in the summer.
The airline is, however, putting more employees back to work in airport lobbies and curbside check-in will soon make a return.
“Let customers lead the way,” Bastian commented last month. “They’re telling us they’re ready, and we are ensuring Delta will be ready to transport them safely, comfortably and conveniently,” he continued.
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.