Delta Air Lines will begin filling aircraft to pre-pandemic passenger capacity, including middle seats, from 1 May 2021, a year after its middle seat blocking policy was introduced.
Delta first introduced its policy of blocking the sale of middle seats in April 2020 shortly after COVID-19 was named a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation, in order to space out passengers on board.
While Delta was joined by many airlines in the US to introduce the policy, including other majors American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, Delta is among the last to retain the policy to this day.
Many airlines have long reiterated to the public that the onboard air filtration systems, in addition to mandatory face mask policies, mean that the risk of catching COVID-19 onboard a commercial flight is incredibly slim.
However, Delta states that its decision to keep the middle seat-blocking policy in place long after other airlines have scrapped it has meant some customers have continued to opt for Delta over other major airlines.
“While Delta’s decision to block middle seats has given many customers a reason to choose Delta over the past year, the signature hospitality of our employees and the experiences they deliver to customers every day have also deepened their trust in our airline,” Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said in a statement.
The Atlanta-based airline has reportedly made the decision to unblock middle seats onboard in line with the current vaccination campaign that continues in the US.
“The relationships we’ve built, together with the knowledge that nearly 65 per cent of those who flew Delta in 2019 anticipate having at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by May 1, are what’s 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,” Bastian added.
The airline CEO is likely referring to the fact that Delta will also bring back in-flight snacks by 14 April, as well as full-service hot meal options for Delta One and First Class tickets by June.
Delta has also informed its staff that it intends to see its entire pilot workforce back online and working by October.
The news comes ahead of the lucrative US summer travel season, which is often an airline’s most profitable season.
The vaccine rollout, as well as the impending summer season, has seen airlines throughout the US bolster their networks, and prepare for a ramp up in demand over the coming months, as reported by World of Aviation earlier this week.
Delta announced it will introduce nine new routes, and bolster the number of flights added on more than 20 leisure destinations for the summer.
New destinations include Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nevada, while bolstered schedules pertain to routes to Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach, and the Caribbean.
The carrier said its decision to do so comes amid “renewed optimism and growing customer confidence in upcoming travel”.
Meanwhile, American Airlines announced that by May, it will fly at 80 per cent of its pre-COVID capacity, while adding 18 new routes to its network for the upcoming summer travel season, including new routes linking JFK to Latin America and the Caribbean.
Meanwhile, Chicago-based United Airlines said it intends to fly at 52 per cent of its pre-COVID schedule over the summer season, and upped its network by 26 new non-stop routes.
According to the Transportation Security Administration, over 1 million passengers have passed through airport checkpoints per day since 11 March 2021, the highest figures seen since March 2020 when initial ‘stay at home’ measures were introduced.
In fact, 28 March 2021 saw the highest figure recorded since 14 March 2020, with 1.57 million passengers passing through.