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

Jan. 13, 2021
6 min read
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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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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.

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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 image by An updated cabin on one of Alaska's A320s. (Image courtesy of Alaska Airlines)
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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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
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The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

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  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023