Delta Adds Additional Capacity To Ensure Social Distancing

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The application, or lack thereof, of social distancing measures on board aircraft, has been a hot topic of late. Now, Delta Air Lines is planning to add more flights to its schedule than demand would normally justify, to be able to keep planes no more than 60% full to capacity throughout July.

Delta waivers
Delta is adding more flights to its schedule to keep social distancing promise. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Adding more flights than demand would justify

As reported by Reuters on Tuesday, Delta Air Lines is betting that customers’ preference for safety will be instrumental in getting more routine travel back in the air. In a bid to keep its promise to leave the middle seat empty, the carrier will add more flights to its schedule than demand would typically justify.

The airline will thus keep flights at a maximum of 60% capacity throughout July. Ed Bastian, Delta’s CEO, believes that passengers will be willing to pay more for the comfort this provides. He stated on a quarterly investor call that less commercial air traffic could be an “opportunity for us to focus more on a more premium experience.”

Delta adding flights to maintain social distancing promise
Delta’s CEO believes people are willing to pay a premium for the comfort guaranteed space will provide. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Appeasing customers and politicians

Delta is attempting in several ways to appease corona-related fears in its passengers. Since May 7th, it is applying a rigorous disinfecting program to all of its aircraft, not just ones arriving from virus hotspots, using electrostatic sprays to clean the cabins from floor to ceiling.

By ensuring social distancing can be maintained, Delta is not just pleasing virus-anxious flyers, but also politicians. Last week, the Chairman of the US House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Peter DeFazio of Oregon, urged airlines to maintain at least one empty seat between all passengers. In the letter sent to airline representatives, he requested that they cap seating at 67% on narrowbody planes.

In an effort to make people feel more comfortable to travel, Delta stepped up its cleaning procedures. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Could longterm goodwill give Delta a wing up?

While adding more flights – and charging a premium – could potentially bring more revenue, it will also incur more costs. Delta, which does not expect air travel to recover for two or three years, has said it aims to halve its daily cash burn to $50 million in June. Presumably, it judges the two not to be exclusive.

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IATA has stated that airlines will not be able to make a profit if they limit airplanes to two-thirds of their normal capacity. But perhaps Delta is counting on the long-term goodwill that putting customers’ perceived safety over immediate profit will bestow.

Delta’s compatriot carrier United recently received a lot of bad press for failing to deliver on the advertised empty middle seat, causing the airline to update its social distancing policy. United announced it would henceforth let customers on flights expected to be full rebook or receive travel credit.

American Airlines has also come under fire for packing its planes too tight. In the post-COVID race for the US domestic market, could adhering to social distancing – effective or not – be what will give Delta a wing up?

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Simple Flying has reached out to Delta for comment but was yet to receive a reply at the time of publishing.

What are your thoughts? Would you be willing to pay a premium for more space between you and other passengers on board? Let us know in the comments. 

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