Southwest Extends Blocked Middle Seats Through Thanksgiving

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Blocked middle seats are going to stick with Southwest for an additional month. The airline today announced that it was extending its policy of keeping the middle seat open on its flights until the end of November, all the way through the Thanksgiving holiday season. This move comes as the airline updated capacity guidance for September and October.

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Southwest is blocking middle seats through Thanksgiving. Photo: Getty Images

Extending blocked middle seats through November

Southwest announced it would continue limiting the number of seats sold on each flight through November 30th, 2020. Before, the airline planned to keep middle seats open through October 31st. Speaking on the extension, Ryan Green, Southwest’s Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, stated the following:

“As we transition into autumn and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday season, we want Southwest Customers to have the confidence of knowing that middle seats will remain open through Nov. 30 to accommodate their fall travel plans. Southwest has been operating flights with middle seats open throughout the summer and has added thousands of flights to in-demand destinations to provide extra seats for on-board physical distancing and added comfort.”

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All of Southwest’s aircraft are in an all-economy configuration. Photo: Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines does not offer pre-assigned seat selection. Instead, customers board in a specific order and select their own seats. As a result, passengers traveling together, such as families, may continue to take up the middle seat. However, if you are traveling on your own, you will not have to occupy a middle seat.

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In addition to the blocked middle seats, Southwest is mandating face coverings for all passengers ages two and up with no exceptions, and the airline is strict about enforcing this policy. In addition, pre-flight, passengers have to acknowledge a health declaration confirming no symptoms, exposure, or diagnosis of the virus.

On the airline’s side, the carrier is using electrostatic sprayers to clean its aircraft, disinfecting its planes before departure, and overnight, doing an enhanced, deep clean of its Boeing 737 jets.

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With no pre-assigned seating, customers are asked to avoid sitting in a middle seat unless they are traveling with companions. Photo: Southwest Airlines

Updated capacity guidance shows why it would be worth it for Southwest

Southwest also released updated capacity guidance through October. In August, revenue was down 70% while the airline notched a load factor of 42%. Meanwhile, available seat miles (capacity) were only down 27%.

In September, operating revenue is expected to be 65-70% down. The airline anticipates a load factor of 45-50% with capacity (in available seat miles) down 40%. Looking ahead to October, revenue is expected to be down 65-75% with a load factor of between 45 and 55%. Available seat miles (capacity) is expected to be down about 40 to 45%.

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While Southwest is seeing some close-in leisure bookings in September, it is not enough to push the airline to a profit. Photo: Getty Images

Essentially, Southwest is capping its load factors at 67% with blocked middle seats. However, if the airline is not notching load factors near there, then the carrier could, on a broad scale, continue to block seats without necessarily losing out on additional revenue. While some flights might be booked full, most are not.

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Southwest’s CEO stated the airline needs to see business double for the carrier to break even this year, let alone turn a profit. Based on Southwest’s guidance, it is clear that the airline does not expect an uptick in business come November with continued blocked middle seats. However, the airline could lay on additional flights on its busiest routes heading into Thanksgiving.

While Southwest has extended its policy, Delta Air Lines has already announced it would be blocking middle seats into the new year. Time will tell if Southwest decides to extend its policy.

Just yesterday, the airline also announced another fare sale for fall travel to spur bookings. Fares start as low as $49 one-way for nonstop flights. Also, Rapid Rewards members can book a flight through September 17th using points and get 20% off while using the SAVE20NOW promo code.

Do you think Southwest is making the right decision to extend blocked middle seats through Thanksgiving? Let us know in the comments!

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