Blocked Seats Mean No Delta Flights Will Be Full Before July

While some US carriers have been blocking out the middle seat only if space allows, Delta Air Lines has decided to cap the number of tickets sold for each flight, to better implement social distancing measures on board. The limitation on ticket sales will be in place until the 1st of July.

Delta Air Lines is limiting seats sold on flights. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Upping the social distancing game

Just earlier today, Delta Air Lines became the latest in a long row of airlines to require that all passengers wear facial coverings during the check-in process and on board its flights. But the carrier is taking its virus safety precautions one step further.

The social distancing policies on US airlines have so far included handling all upgrades at check-in (rather than in advance), blocking off an area close to cabin crew jump seats to create a buffer zone, and managing seat assignments. The middle seat would be blocked off, but only if the number of passengers on the plane would allow.

In practice, this has led to a number (such as they are) of flights in the US being cramped and crowded, sparking outrage on social media as a result. Now, Delta, which has been receiving accolades for its cabin designs, is making sure there will be at least some distance between passengers.

According to View From the Wing, Delta is going to cap flight load factors through the 30th of June. It will sell no more than 60% of seats in Delta One, Premium Select, Comfort+ and Main Cabin, and no more than 50% in its Domestic First.

Delta aircraft fogging
Delta will only sell 60% of tickets to be able to keep the middle seat clear. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Is there really any benefit?

While any long-term restrictions on ticket sales would be economically unthinkable (although, the parameters for what was previously inconceivable have recently shifted somewhat), or, as certain Irish airline CEOs have dubbed it, “nonsense.”  To maintain any such precaution would mean drastically increasing ticket prices. But, for now, it could generate some PR good-will. Or at least keep the Twitter-storms from raging. Perhaps that will be in Delta’s favor when demand begins to trickle back as travel restrictions ease up.

Of course, there are valid discussions on just how much an empty middle seat will protect someone from contracting a virus on board a plane. Most likely, passengers will be inches away from one person in front, and one person behind, in any case. Still, it cannot hurt not having to wrestle for an armrest with someone whose level of personal hygiene you are not familiar with.

According to research, the highest risk of catching something on board a plane is if you are seated by the aisle and towards the back of the aircraft. Why? Because people get up and move along the plane towards the back to go to the toilet. And so you are exposed to close contact with a higher number of people.

Paying for proper distance

As seen with the face mask requirements for crew and passengers, when one US carrier makes a move, the rest have been quick to follow suit. Should people request even more space to feel safe while flying, perhaps we will begin to see more airlines copying the idea of regional Chinese airline Air Changan. It will allow you to, for a fee, block off an entire cocoon of nine seats, all to yourself. But then, the rest of the cabin might have to cozy up. It is not clear how popular that would make the one person occupying three rows all by themselves.

How do you feel about traveling right now? Would you be willing to pay a higher ticket price for more space around you on board, even in the future?