Alaska Airlines blocks middle seats over Christmas as coronavirus losses shrink

Oct 22, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Alaska Airlines will block seats on flights over Christmas and into the new year, continuing the split between carriers that do and do not view the confidence-boosting measure as needed to spur travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Seattle-based carrier extended its blocking of middle seats on mainline jets — Airbus A320s and A321neos, and Boeing 737s — through Jan. 6, 2021, Alaska said on Thursday. The policy was previously due to end on Nov. 30.

Alaska’s extension comes as competitor Southwest Airlines said it will remove its seating caps on Dec. 1. The move leaves just Alaska, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways capping the number of passengers on any given flight in the U.S. The policies are widely viewed more as a confidence-boosting measures since social distancing is difficult within the confines of an aircraft.

Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG’s free new biweekly Aviation newsletter!

Trade group the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has found that wearing masks, coupled with an airplane’s air filtration system, is the best defense against COVID onboard a plane. The group estimates that the chance of catching the virus on a plane is less than the risk of being struck by lightning.

“The social distance onboard an aircraft are ensured by the airflow,” IATA medical advisor Dr. David Powell said on Oct. 8. “That’s the best protection onboard an aircraft.”

Alaska intends to begin unblocking seats early in 2021, said president Ben Minicucci during a quarterly earnings call on Thursday. He cited several studies that show that air filtration and mask wearing on planes reduces the risk of COVID infection to near zero.

The airline will likely lift its seating caps gradually. Middle seats will be filled on shorter flights and those with pre-flight testing requirements first before being sold systemwide, said Minicucci.

Related: Risk of coronavirus on planes less than getting struck by lightning

Selling blocked middle seats is key to Alaska’s return to financial health. The airline lost an average of $4 million a day during the three months ending in September and is unlikely to hit its goal of break even by year-end, Alaska chief financial officer Shane Tackett said on the call.

“At this point, it will require a further recovery of demand and the likely removal of seat blocks to achieve” cash break even, he said.

Alaska plans to fly about 60% of its 2019 schedule in the last three months of 2020. That represents a steady improvement from the roughly 45% in the third quarter when the carrier reported a $431 million net loss.

Related: Which US airlines are blocking middle seats?

The story was updated with additional details from Alaska’s third quarter earnings call.

Featured image by Michael Rosebrock/Shutterstock.

 

 

 

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Earn 2x total points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases per month from November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. Includes eligible pick-up and delivery services.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

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

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.