Another major airline is blocking middle seats — but there’s a catch

Jan 13, 2021

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For months now, airlines have touted their cleanliness and sanitation protocols.

At the onset of the pandemic, it was about blocking seats for extra space onboard. However, airlines have mostly abandoned this safety (and marketing) tactic as we entered 2021. Delta remains the only airline blocking all middle seats through March 30, 2021.

But Delta isn’t the only airline providing an empty adjacent seat. For one carrier, the middle seat is empty — as long as you’re sitting in a certain section of the plane.

That’s right, Alaska Airlines isn’t selling middle seats exclusively in Premium Class (extra-legroom economy). Here’s how the Seattle-based carrier is taking a unique approach to seat blocking through May — and why elites may want to decline a first-class upgrade. 

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In This Post

A blocked middle seat — but not for all

On most of its planes, Alaska sells an extra-legroom economy seat dubbed “Premium Class.” It’s akin to American’s Main Cabin Extra, Delta’s Comfort+ and United’s Economy Plus.

On Alaska flights, the perks typically include up to four extra inches of legroom, a complimentary alcoholic beverage and priority boarding. However, there’s another added benefit on all Boeing and Airbus aircraft through May 31, 2021: A blocked middle seat.

Blocked middle seats in Premium Class is denoted by the X (Screenshot courtesy of Alaska)

Related: How airlines are keeping passengers safe

On aircraft that do not have middle seats (such as the Embraer E-175), Alaska says this extra-legroom section will not have additional seats left open.

Notice how there are no blocked seats on the E-175 aircraft for Premium Class. (Screenshot courtesy of Alaska Airlines)

A seat in Premium class ranges in cost depending on the length of a flight. Alaska says upgrades start as low as $9, with some transcontinental flights more than $100. Elites get complimentary upgrades as long as you’re not on a Saver (basic economy) ticket. More on that below.

Empty middle seats are a fantastic perk, no matter how you slice it. Alaska says this is a “pilot program” as service levels remain reduced onboard.

Related: Alaska frequent flyers have a lot to look forward to in 2021

First class could be full

However, while you may get an empty adjacent seat in extra-legroom economy, you likely won’t get one in first class.

That’s because Alaska is selling the rest of its economy and first-class cabin to full capacity. (There may be some instances of blocked passenger seats near flight attendant jump seats.)

(Photo by Katherine Fan /The Points Guy)

That means if you want the greatest distance between you and the closest passenger, you may want to consider sitting in Premium Class as opposed to first class or regular economy.

You get most of the same perks in extra-legroom economy as you would in first class, including beer and wine and a fruit and cheese platter (for flights over 1,100 miles). However, Premium Class does not receive the snack basket or any option for sandwiches served in first class. And of course, you get a narrower seat and less recline than in first.

All in all, though, service has been reduced for all cabins, so you’re not missing out on much.

Related: Airline coronavirus change and cancellation policies: A complete list of major carriers

Why it matters for elites

Alaska elites — MVPs, MVP Golds and MVP Gold 75ks — are eligible for complimentary upgrades to both Premium Class and first class on all fares (except for Saver).

By sitting in Premium Class, you’ll likely have more elbow space and decreased person-to-person interactions as compared to first. If that’s of importance, you should consider paying up for one of those seats outright.

Additionally, you can remove the checkmark on the “upgrade to first class if available” option at checkout (or in your Mileage Plan account settings).

(Screenshot courtesy of Alaska)

For shorter flights where I’m traveling alone, I would certainly prefer to sit anywhere onboard where there’s a guarantee of an adjacent empty seat.

Related: Why TPG’s Summer Hull declined first-class upgrades during the pandemic

When a flight is full or relatively full, first class offers more built-in space and separation from nearby passengers. And a seat in the last row of first class may alleviate concern about passenger interaction.

However, in the cases where first and standard economy may have every seat occupied, those in Premium Class will at least have an empty middle seat. That guarantee is a welcome perk some passengers, such as myself, may prefer.

All of this is particularly relevant if you have to fly now during the pandemic. It pays to monitor the seat map in the days and hours before the time of your flight’s departure to determine if your flight will be full.

Related: You can now earn up to 65,000 miles with the latest Alaska card offer

Bottom line

Alaska is giving Premium Class passengers an empty middle seat as a published perk through May 31, 2021. It may make sense to book this cabin if more space between you and nearby passengers is of paramount concern.

For Alaska elites, that means you’ll want to even more closely monitor the seat map to decide if an upgrade to first class is worth it — especially if you want the guarantee of a few extra inches of breathing (and elbow) room.

Featured photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines.

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