The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people travel, but just how you find the best seat depends on which airlines you choose to fly with.
On May 1, Delta became the last major US airline to stop blocking middle seats. This means that after flying for a while, you should start expecting a full flight.
Still, airlines have responded in different ways to the pandemic. For instance, some airlines have added more frequent flier programs.
It’s hard to argue that airlines have any real difference when it comes to customer service. In the US, for instance, American Airlines has the worst customer service in the world.
During the pandemic, some airlines were more accommodating to their customers than others. For instance, American Airlines was quick to pack planes as quickly as possible. Other airlines, like Spirit, hardly limited their capacity.
Delta is the only major airline that blocks middle seats on domestic flights during the spring. It’s led the charge in promoting customer-friendly policies.
As travel begins to return, the question that travellers have is whether they were paying attention to the airlines’ friendly policies.
Related: Charter Passenger Airlines in US
Do Empty Middle Seats Really Matter?
According to public health officials, an empty middle seat can prevent people from safely touching their nearest neighbour.
A study also found that keeping empty middle seats can help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
It’s also believed that an empty middle seat can make travellers feel safer. For me, being seated next to someone who wasn’t wearing a seat made me feel like I was being stalked by a stranger.
After other airlines started filling planes, flyers started asking Delta to guarantee an empty middle seat. However, the company eventually dropped these policies. Instead, it focused on making sure that everyone is wearing face masks.
During the pandemic, many airlines restricted sales of middle seats and halted flights to accommodate the influx of people.
Alaska Airlines, for instance, only blocked middle seats in its economy class sections. However, other airlines have different strategies when it comes to blocking middle seats.
After Alaska Airlines became the first major carrier to stop blocking middle seats, things started to normalise onboard.
In addition, the company also uses electrostatic spray technology to deep clean its planes. It also uses cleaning agents to keep the aircraft fresh.
The company also encourages travellers to avoid using the middle seat unless they are part of a group. Instead, Allegiant suggests spreading out across the cabin.
Allegiant became the last major US airline to require its passengers and crew members to wear face masks when they fly.
American Airlines, on the other hand, doesn’t block middle seats. Instead, it allows its passengers to change their plans when a flight is full.
Despite not changing its boarding procedures, American Airlines still processes passengers as usual. It uses the same cleaning methods and disinfecting techniques as other airlines.
The company also continues to implement various safety measures, such as keeping the plane as normal as it has always been. To prevent the spread of the virus, American has introduced a new surface protection coating.
Even though Delta was the first major carrier to stop blocking middle seats, it won’t be able to completely empty them again for a long time.
Delta Air Lines ended its practice of blocking the middle seats of international flights on Saturday after the coronavirus outbreak.
Several US airlines started selling all of their seats in 2019. That’s when most of the major carriers started returning to full flights.
Delta said in March that it would allow all passengers to buy tickets starting May 1.
Delta is also keeping its planes clean and spraying them with chemicals between each flight. In addition, it has switched up its boarding process, allowing passengers to board planes in groups of four to five rows.
Frontier Airlines only allows travellers to sit in the middle sections of its planes during the higher-cost seating sections.
Aside from keeping the cabin clean, Frontier also conducts temperature tests before each flight. It also uses jets to deep clean the high-traffic areas of the aircraft.
After Alaska Airlines stopped blocking middle seats, Hawaiian Airlines started filling those spots again on December 15, 2020.
The company’s other safety measures include allowing economy passengers to board Hawaiian flights from the back to limit the number of people travelling with them.
After initially promising to never block middle seats, JetBlue started to sell more seats than it could afford. It eventually stopped blocking them all.
The company also uses a deep cleaning process to remove any traces of bacteria from the aircraft.
One of the few major airlines that still guarantees empty seats is Southwest. In 2020, the company announced that it would start selling tickets to capacity.
Unlike other airlines, Southwest doesn’t assign seats. Instead, it only caps ticket sales at 66% to ensure that the middle sections aren’t filled.
It also started using a deep cleaning process instead of just cleaning the seats and armrests. However, it still uses the same cleaning methods on every flight. It also started boarding groups of 10 passengers at a time.
Although Spirit doesn’t sell tickets on flights, it still advises passengers to avoid sitting in the middle sections until the plane fills up. The company also continues to serve alcohol and snacks on board.
Sun Country Airlines
Sun Country won’t be selling tickets for seats, but it will still work with passengers to spread out when additional seats become available.
Aside from keeping its planes clean, Sun Country also implemented additional safety measures, such as suspending the sale of alcoholic drinks and snacks on board.
United was the first major airline to stop blocking middle seats. Instead of asking passengers to check the status of their flight, United will inform them if it’s 70% full.
The company also started using electrostatic spray between each flight to remove grime from the interior. It also announced row-by-row times so that passengers can easily get off the plane.
Related: List of Cargo Airlines in the US
During the height of the pandemic, many airlines enforced the rule of not filling middle seats. As the situation eased up, they started selling more tickets.