JetBlue has promised to block middle seats from sale until mid-October. Beyond that, things are changing. The airline’s Chief Operations Officer and President Joanna Geraghty has explained how it will be using data to sell more seats, seating groups together and accounting for no-shows better. However, she has confirmed that JetBlue’s planes will not be filled to capacity any time soon.
JetBlue will not fill flights
Throughout the COVID pandemic, JetBlue has been a standout airline in terms of its passenger safety protocols. It was the first airline in the US to mandate mask-wearing and an early adopter of the blocked middle seat. The carrier has already promised to block its middle seats until at least October 15th, in a bid to give passengers the confidence to travel again.
Speaking at last week’s World Aviation Festival, President and Chief Operations Officer at JetBlue, Joanna Geraghty, said that keeping social distancing onboard its aircraft is a key priority for JetBlue. She said,
“JetBlue will continue to cap our flights. We will not fill our flights for the foreseeable future, because we do think this is an important component of rebuilding customer confidence.”
However, there will be some changes to the way social distancing is managed, in a bid to make it a sustainable practice going forward.
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An expensive investment
Geraghty admitted that blocking the middle seat is an expensive proposition for an airline, particularly as demand begins to return. She commented,
“The blocked middle seats are obviously an incredibly expensive investment. It becomes even more expensive as demand starts to slowly come back.
“We’ve always doubled down in space at JetBlue. We’ve always been the airline with the most legroom and the most space. We know there’s a value there. But we also know that, longer term, it’s just not going to be sustainable.”
Rather than scrapping the idea of a blocked middle seat altogether, JetBlue is taking a more data-driven approach to social distancing. Geraghty explained,
“Other carriers that have been blocking the middle seat have started to slowly lift the limits on flights, getting smarter about families travelling together, no show rates. We’re going to start looking at some of those same things.
You can play with the limits on the flights in a way that uses data more smartly, taking into consideration families travelling together and no-show rates. We’re getting smarter on what those limits should be.”
A number of other airlines have adopted a similar policy, seating groups together where possible and selling more seats on the plane. Predictive intelligence and smart algorithms will help the airline plan its capacity better, letting it sell the right number of seats while still maintaining distance between passengers.
If it works well, it will be a win-win for passengers and the airline.
But does a vacant middle seat keep you safe?
In the situation where a solo traveler is just one seat away from their neighbor, the two travelers are still much closer than the recommended six feet of distance. Still, some studies have supported the notion that viral transmission is somewhat reduced when passengers aren’t literally rubbing shoulders.
Even JetBlue’s COO admits that it’s more a sensitivity measure than actual health and safety. Geraghty said,
“We know … that the middle seat is largely a perception issue. It gives passengers the feeling of having some space around them.”
That being said, one of the biggest hurdles for airlines to overcome as they emerge from the crisis is passenger confidence. If keeping the middle seat empty when traveling solo does that, then JetBlue’s strategy is most definitely a winner.