Delta to stop blocking middle seats on May 1

The passenger cabin on a Delta Boeing 737-900ER is shown while landing in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., January 10, 2018.

Mike Blake | Reuters

Delta Air Lines said Wednesday it will stop blocking seats on its planes starting May 1, the last U.S. airline to end the pandemic-era policy as more travelers return to the skies.

Delta first started blocking middle seats and limiting capacity on smaller planes in April near the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Other airlines had similar policies, including Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Alaska Airlines, but they have since gone back to selling all seats.

Physically distancing from other passengers is extremely difficult on an airplane. Delta and other carriers have repeatedly said filtration systems and intense cleaning make it unlikely that travelers will catch Covid-19 on a plane. But Delta said many travelers choose Delta over other airlines because it kept its policy in place.

CEO Ed Bastian said in announcement that 65% of customers who flew Delta in 2019 said they expect to have at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by May 1 and that that is “giving us the assurance to offer customers the ability to choose any seat on our aircraft, while also introducing new services, products and rewards to support the journey.”

The change comes just as what an improved summer travel season approaches. Generally the most lucrative time of year, airlines suffered as many potential customers stayed home last year.

But with vaccines rolling out across the country, airline executives are upbeat about an increase in bookings for late spring and summer trips.

Delta also announced a host of other changes. Tickets valid until the end of this year as well as all tickets purchased this year would be valid until the end of 2022. Delta also said its customers can earn as much as 75% more to get to Medallion Status.

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