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The end of blocked middle seats is nigh.
Delta is the last airline still offering empty middle seats—but not for much longer.
At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, several airlines started blocking middle seats so that travelers could remain somewhat socially distant when flying. They included Southwest Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and Delta Air Lines.
But as demand for air travel slowly inched up, the majority of those carriers have since begun selling middle seats again.
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. Seat blocking on Hawaiian Airlines flights ended on December 15, and Alaska stopped blocking middle seats on January 6.
If space is important to you, one U.S. airline is still guaranteeing it—but not for much longer.
Delta recently announced that it will be blocking middle seat selection through April 30, 2021. Effective May 1, all seats on all Delta flights will be available for booking. Until then, for parties of one or two people, middle seats will be blocked entirely to others. For parties of three or more, middle seats will appear as available for booking so that families and travel companions can sit together.
American says it is encouraging physical distancing in the gate area and while passengers board its aircraft.
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If travelers want to be absolutely certain there will be an empty seat next to them, JetBlue customers have the option to book an empty seat for the same price as the seat they are sitting in—so they can pay double the cost of their seat to ensure an empty one besides them.
Southwest has said it will make it easier for customers booked on fuller flights to rebook to another flight, but it’s not clear exactly how—Southwest, like most other major carriers now, already does not charge a change fee.
While United does not guarantee that middle seats will be blocked, the carrier said if a regularly scheduled flight is expected to be fairly full, the airline will “do our best” to contact passengers approximately 24 hours prior to departure to decide whether they want to proceed with their travel plans or change the flight with no change fee. The carrier is also deplaning its aircraft five rows at a time in an effort to reduce crowding.
All of the major U.S. airlines—including Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, and United—have mandatory mask policies in place with strict enforcement rules. Recent research has shed some light on how vigilant mask wearing may help prevent COVID-19 transmissions in-flight.
This story was originally published on October 26, 2020, and was updated on March 31, 2021, to include current information.
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