During the pandemic several airlines started blocking middle seats so that travelers could have a little extra space between themselves and others—to remain somewhat socially distant when flying. They included Southwest Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and Delta Air Lines.
But one by one, as demand for air travel slowly inched up, the carriers began selling middle seats again—except for one, Delta. Now, Delta too is giving up on the practice.
“With inoculations rising and travelers telling us they’re ready to return to Delta, today we’re making a number of changes to our service to meet our customers’ needs. . . . Those steps include unblocking the middle seat and allowing customers to book any seat on our planes effective May 1,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in a March 31 statement.
Southwest, which had been limiting the number of seats sold on flights so that passengers could maintain some distance, resumed selling all available seats on December 1, 2020. Seat blocking on Hawaiian Airlines flights ended on December 15, 2020, and Alaska stopped blocking middle seats on January 6, 2021.
Delta first introduced its middle seat block policy in April 2020, and extended it several times, ultimately through April 30, 2021, marking one year of reduced capacity. Until then, for parties of one or two people, middle seats are blocked entirely to others. For parties of three or more, middle seats appear as available for booking so that families and travel companions can sit together.
Bastian stated that Delta’s internal research indicates that 64 percent of the carrier’s customers expect to have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by May 1, and 75 percent anticipate they will have received their first dose by Memorial Day. As of March 31, 31 percent of Delta’s employees have been vaccinated, Bastian stated.
Masks will continue to be mandatory and enhanced cleaning measures will remain in place for the foreseeable future.
New routes and the return of snacks
The news that Delta is selling all available seats starting May 1 comes as the carrier recently announced several new routes and service expansions amid an uptick in demand for travel.
Delta is greatly expanding its service to Alaska this summer, including new weekend service to Anchorage from Detroit, Los Angeles, and New York, starting on May 28.
And following the news that Iceland is now open to all vaccinated travelers, Delta will have new daily service to Iceland from Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) beginning May 20, renewed service from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) beginning May 1, and from Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport (MSP) beginning May 27.
Delta is making other changes, too, as travel begins to rebound. Effective April 14, there will be a “newly designed” food and beverage service. The carrier didn’t provide much detail other than to say that fliers can expect “classic favorites and new treats.”
During the pandemic, Delta’s scaled-back service included some snacks and only one bottled water each for economy passengers on flights more than 350 miles. Those in Comfort+ and first class were offered beer and wine on flights more than 350 miles, and meal boxes on flights longer than 900 miles. For flights longer than 1,500 miles, economy passengers have been able to request additional bottles of water. Meals and a full selection of drinks have been served on international flights.
Starting in early June, Delta One or first-class customers on domestic cross-country flights will be offered hot food options once again, and first-class customers on other domestic routes will receive boxed meals starting in early July.
The airline will also be reopening almost all of its Delta Sky Clubs by July.