Which US Airlines Are Still Blocking Middle Seats?

Airlines have been blocking out the middle seat for the last few months on narrowbody aircraft to prevent passengers’ proximity. However, this recommendation has changed in the last few days, and some airlines have now removed the middle-seat block. Which airlines have updated their policies and which still have an empty seat in the middle?

The middle seat will now be for sale – which airlines are still blocking them out? Photo: Southwest Airlines

Why did airlines block out the middle seat?

This year, airlines took a proactive measure to ensure passenger comfort and blocked out the middle seats onboard aircraft. This generally means on a narrowbody plane with a 3-3 configuration, two seats on each row would be blocked out and left empty.

This is very expensive for the airline (1/3 of all seats can’t be sold), and many struggled with the cost vs. benefit. Like United and American Airlines, airlines that decided not to do it were reprimanded by passengers on social media.

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Whether or not this measure is actually needed, we will leave to the experts, as it’s almost impossible to social distance onboard an aircraft anyway. With other health measures such as sanitizing after each flight and HEPA filters, planes are one of the safest places to be.

Southwest is selling the middle seats for Christmas

Now, airlines are re-evaluating if they can have passengers back in the middle seats. Southwest was one of the first to open up the seats to be sold for the Christmas period, confident that its health measures would be enough to mean social distancing attempts won’t be necessary.

“This practice of effectively keeping middle seats open bridged us from the early days of the pandemic, when we had little knowledge about the behavior of the virus, to now,” the airline said in a statement Thursday. “Today, aligned with science-based findings from trusted medical and aviation organizations, we will resume selling all available seats for travel beginning Dec. 1, 2020.

Other airlines never did block the middle seat, or not for very long at least. American Airline and United, for example, have been selling to capacity, although they will let passengers know if the plane is getting full to give them the opportunity to switch flights.

United economy plus
You might find yourself sitting next to someone on your next flight. Photo: United Airlines

Which airlines are still blocking the middle seat?

There are only a few other carriers reluctant to open up the seats as fast.

Delta believes that it will maintain its blocked seat policy well into next year. “We’re one of the few airlines in the world still that’s blocking the middle seat and capping the load factors on our plane at somewhere around two-thirds of the normal capacity,” Delta CEO told FOX Business’ Maria Bartiromo on “Mornings with Maria.”

Alaska Airlines also intends to extend the seat block policy until after the Christmas period. This is even though the airline is burning through four million a day – it could really use the revenue a middle seat would provide. 

JetBlue is not blocking middle seats, but is trying to give passengers some space. The airline is using predictive algorithms and data analysis to give solo travelers a free seat next to them where possible, but to seat families and groups together to allow it to sell more seats.

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