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Delta is now the only US airline blocking all middle seats

Jan. 10, 2021
12 min read
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Editor's Note

This post has been updated with additional information. 

For months, as most Americans limited trips outside their homes, airline passenger loads plummeted to levels most of us could have never imagined. More recently, however, many U.S. states have eased restrictions, and an increasing number of travelers are taking to the skies once again.

While passengers may see almost entirely unreserved seat maps at booking — expecting to find those conditions onboard — airlines are canceling and consolidating flights. In some cases, that results in an aircraft that is more full than expected, making social distancing difficult.

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Without firm requirements from the federal government, policies differ significantly from one carrier to the next, creating a lot of confusion among travelers. Some of the procedures we're seeing include:

  • Aircraft fogging and daily deep cleans
  • Blocking seats to encourage social distancing
  • Compulsory face coverings for passengers and/or crew

While it's important to check with your airline as policies can change quickly, here's what you can expect when traveling on each U.S. carrier:

AirlineMasks availableMasks requiredCleaning before every flightMiddle seats not sold
AlaskaYesYesYesPremium Class only
AllegiantYesYes
AmericanYesYesYes
DeltaYesYesYesYes
FrontierYesYes
HawaiianYesYes
JetBlueYesYesYes
SouthwestYesYesYes
SpiritYes
Sun CountryYes
UnitedYesYesYes

Let's break the policies down in more detail below, giving you an idea of what to expect throughout your journey.

Alaska

Aircraft cleaning

Alaska Airlines is cleaning common touchpoints (armrests, seat belts, overhead controls, etc.) using a high-grade EPA disinfectant before every flight.

Face masks

All Alaska employees are required to wear face masks, and all passengers two years and older are required to wear masks as well. Masks with exhaust valves are not allowed, and those who refuse to wear an approved mask or face covering may be banned from flying the airline. Alaska Airlines will have masks available for passengers who forget theirs at home.

Passenger loads

As of Jan. 7, 2021, Alaska is no longer blocking middle seats in regular economy, but the airline will continue to block middle seats in the extra-legroom Premium Class section through May 31, 2021.

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Other measures

The airline has reduced inflight service to limit onboard interaction. With a flight attendant's permission, passengers may move to avoid sitting near other travelers, if seats are available elsewhere on the aircraft.

Allegiant

Aircraft cleaning

In addition to regular cleaning, Allegiant is applying an antimicrobial protectant that, according to the airline, "kills viruses, germs and bacteria on contact for 14 days." Disinfectant wipes are available upon request on all aircraft.

Face masks

All Allegiant customers age two and above, flight attendants and airport employees are required to wear face coverings. During boarding, the airline will provide passengers with health and safety kits, which include face masks, gloves and hand wipes.

Passenger loads

All seats are available to purchase on Allegiant flights.

Other measures

Gate agents are making frequent announcements to encourage social distancing, and the airline has added signage to encourage the practice in lines, in the gate area and onboard aircraft. If a flight exceeds 65% capacity, passengers can be notified about possible reaccomodation options.

American

Aircraft cleaning

American says it is thoroughly cleaning aircraft between flights, including using an EPA-approved disinfectant to clean common customer touchpoints (armrests, seat belts, tray tables, etc.), along with cockpits, galleys and other crew areas.

Face masks

American requires masks for all employees and passengers age two and above are required to wear masks as well, from the time they enter their departure airport to the time they leave the airport upon arrival. American does not permit masks with valves or vents, and customers who refuse to wear a mask or face covering may be banned from flying the airline. AA encourages customers to bring their own face coverings, though a limited supply of masks may be available at the gate.

Passenger loads

American Airlines is no longer blocking seats, and all aircraft may be sold to capacity.

Other measures

American has also increased the frequency of cleaning areas it controls throughout the airport, including ticket counters, team member rooms and gates.

Delta

Aircraft cleaning

Delta is thoroughly cleaning common touchpoints (armrests, seat belts, overhead controls, etc.) and applying a disinfectant fogging before every flight. TPG had an opportunity to witness an aircraft cleaning — see this post for a closer look at the airline's current procedures.

Face masks

Delta is requiring that all employees and contractors wear masks, and passengers age two and above are required to wear face coverings as well, at all Delta areas in the airport and onboard all flights. Masks are available upon request at ticket counters, gates and onboard flights. Customers who refuse to wear a mask or face covering may be banned from flying the airline. Note that face masks that include an exhaust valve are not permitted.

Passenger loads

Delta is now the only U.S. airline limiting capacity onboard, and will continue to block all middle seats through at least April 30, 2021.

Other measures

Delta is boarding flights from the rear of the aircraft to the front, to minimize opportunities for customers to come into contact onboard. The airline is also requiring customers to complete a health acknowledgement prior to boarding.

Frontier

Aircraft cleaning

Frontier is cleaning aircraft before every flight, focusing on passenger seating, cabin walls, overhead bins, galleys and lavatories. A more thorough disinfectant cleaning will take place when time allows between flights.

Face masks

All employees are required to wear face masks and all passengers age two and above are required to wear face coverings as well, at all Frontier areas within the airport and onboard all flights.

Passenger loads

Frontier is boarding passengers boarding from the rear of the aircraft to the front, to avoid unnecessary contact.

Other measures

Frontier has added a special "health acknowledgment" at check-in, asking passengers to confirm that they nor anyone in their household has exhibited COVID-19 symptoms within 14 days, that they've checked their temperature and do not have a fever and that they will sanitize their hands before the flight. If a passenger cannot accept the health acknowledgment, they'll be issued a credit for a future Frontier flight. Finally, the airline is requiring passengers to undergo a temperature check at boarding — customers with temperatures at or above 100.4 degrees will be denied boarding.

Hawaiian

Aircraft cleaning

Hawaiian says it is thoroughly disinfecting all planes after each transpacific flight with hospital-grade disinfectants, focusing on common touch areas. All inter-island aircraft are also cleaned after every flight into Honolulu (HNL) and are disinfected each night. Sanitizing wipes are also available onboard.

Face masks

Airport employees and flight attendants are required to wear masks, and all passengers age two and above are required to wear masks during boarding, during the entire flight and during deplaning as well.

Passenger loads

Hawaiian is no longer blocking the sale of middle seats.

Other measures

The airline is boarding economy passengers from back to front. Additionally, testing and/or a 14-day quarantine may be required for all passengers traveling to Hawaii, as outlined in this detailed guide.

JetBlue

Aircraft cleaning

The airline is conducting "deep cleans" of aircraft, including electrostatic spraying overnight, and tray tables and lavatories are disinfected before every flight.

Face masks

All JetBlue crew members and passengers age two and above are required to wear face coverings or masks. JetBlue does not permit masks with exhaust valves, and if you forget your face covering at home, the airline will provide one at the gate. Passengers who refuse to wear a mask may be banned from flying the airline.

Passenger loads

JetBlue is no longer limiting capacity onboard, however the airline makes it easy to purchase an additional seat for extra personal space, with detailed instructions provided on JetBlue's website.

Other measures

JetBlue says it is sanitizing surfaces throughout airport terminals more frequently and implementing other measures to limit contact, such as encouraging customers to scan their own boarding passes. Passengers will board from the rear of the aircraft to the front.

Southwest

Aircraft cleaning

Southwest spends at least six hours cleaning all aircraft overnight, and the carrier says it is using a disinfectant to clean tray tables and lavatories before every flight.

Face masks

All Southwest employees are required to wear face masks and passengers age two and above are required to wear masks or face coverings during their entire journey as well. Face masks and sanitizing wipes are available upon request.

Passenger loads

Southwest is maintaining its open seating policy, and is no longer limiting the number of seats sold.

Other measures

Gate agents are asking customers to scan their own boarding passes, minimizing interactions with staff. Service has been limited, but water and snacks may be served on flights over 250 miles.

Spirit

Aircraft cleaning

According to the airline's dedicated COVID-19 webpage, Spirit's "expanded aircraft cleaning protocols include hospital-grade disinfectants and antibacterial processes that keep all surfaces throughout the cabin free of viruses and bacteria."

Face masks

Spirit employees and passengers age two and above are required to wear masks or face coverings. Masks with exhaust valves are not allowed.

Passenger loads

Spirit is not currently limiting the sale of seats on flights.

Other measures

Spirit is offering self bag-drop stations at select airports, minimizing interactions with employees. The airline has also installed clear shields at counters, added "distance dots" to promote distancing and shifted to an "on-demand" snack service.

Sun Country

Aircraft cleaning

Sun Country has increased the frequency at which it cleans high-touch areas, including arm rests, tray tables and lavatories. The airline has also added a disinfectant, which is applied between day flights when an aircraft is on the ground for more than two hours, and during all overnight cleanings at the airline's Minneapolis-Saint Paul (MSP) hub.

Face masks

Sun Country is requiring that all employees and passengers age two and above wear face coverings. Face masks with valves are not permitted and shields may only be worn over a face mask.

Passenger loads

Sun Country is selling all flights to capacity.

Other measures

Sun Country is not offering any service onboard, including complimentary beverages and buy-on-board products, to minimize interactions between passengers and crew.

United

Aircraft cleaning

United utilizes electrostatic spraying before most flights, in addition to regular preflight aircraft cleaning procedures. The airline is also applying an antimicrobial solution that protects surfaces for at least seven days.

Face masks

United is requiring that all employees and passengers age two and above cover their faces in the airport and while onboard an aircraft. As with many other carriers, vented masks are not permitted. Customers who refuse to wear a mask or face covering may be banned from flying the airline. United will make masks available to passengers upon request.

Passenger loads

United is selling all flights to capacity.

Other measures

The airline is boarding passengers from the rear of the aircraft to the front, to minimize interactions onboard. Gate agents will also board fewer passengers at a time, in an effort to avoid crowding in the jet bridge, and will encourage passengers to scan their own boarding passes.

Bottom line

Ultimately, traveling right now does carry some risk, even though it may be impossible to quantify. Driving may seem like a safer alternative, but with food and fuel stops, bathroom visits and overnight stays on longer car journeys, avoiding air travel entirely isn't always the logical pick.

As always, individuals who don't feel comfortable traveling right now should take advantage of their airline's flexible change or cancellation policy to cancel or postpone their trip.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more