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It’s official: The era of blocked middle seats just ended

June 01, 2021
4 min read
It’s official: The era of blocked middle seats just ended
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Onboard social distancing policies are officially a relic of the past.

As of Tuesday, June 1, the final U.S. carrier, Alaska Airlines, ended its middle-seat block policy. While the Seattle-based airline resumed selling most of its cabins to full capacity on Jan. 7, 2021, it carved out a notable exception for Premium Class flyers.

Through May 31, Premium Class came with a valuable perk — empty middle seats — in addition to its standard inclusions, like four more inches of legroom, complimentary beer and wine (when available) and priority boarding. Though parties of three or more could select seats together, solo travelers were assured that the middle seat would remain empty. Alaska's extra-legroom offering is priced somewhere between a standard coach and a first-class ticket.

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Now that Alaska's middle-seat block has officially ended across all cabins, no major U.S. carrier is left blocking the middle seat.

Delta was the penultimate holdout. Beginning on May 1, the Atlanta-based carrier resumed selling flights to 100% capacity. Armed with studies that suggest the risk of inflight COVID-19 transmission is low and combined with the rapidly growing vaccination rates, the airline reasoned that May 1 was the right time to end the seat block.

Delta was the last U.S. carrier to block all middle seats (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Delta kept the middle seat open across its cabins to every destination for roughly a full year. The carrier started blocking seats in April 2020, and slowly made some adjustments to its policy throughout the pandemic, like lifting capacity caps on Delta One cabins on wide-body jets and unblocking select seats on smaller regional jets.

In addition to Alaska and Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue and Southwest also capped capacity, but those policies were scrapped by mid-January, right after the winter holiday season. The two other Big 3 U.S. airlines, American and United, each blocked select middle seats or capped capacity for a short duration much earlier in the pandemic, but those policies ended quickly.

With more and more Americans getting vaccinated and returning to the skies, maintaining a seat cap would likely cause airlines to lose out on additional revenue if they didn't raise fares or add capacity. Plus, recent studies show that the risk of inflight transmission is low, especially among fully vaccinated individuals.

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Though airlines are no longer capping capacity, those who’d like to purchase a second seat for added space can still do so. As summer travel ramps up, airlines are expecting extremely high load factors that could rival — or break — the pre-pandemic levels in 2019. If you're flying domestically during a weekend or other peak travel day, expect a full flight.

Related: How to buy a second seat for yourself on U.S. airlines

You'll want to check out TPG's guide to buying a second seat for all you need to know about scoring some additional shoulder space from your neighbor. Alternatively, you could always splurge for a first-class recliner or find a domestic flight operated by a lie-flat-equipped jet for added social distancing.

More broadly, blocking the middle seat is just the latest pandemic-era policy to be scrapped.

At the beginning of May, Alaska, Delta and United let their flexible travel waiver for basic economy tickets expire, leaving JetBlue as the lone holdout offering free changes for all tickets through June 7. Though most major U.S. carriers have pledged to permanently eliminate change fees, the majority of basic economy tickets have returned to their pre-pandemic restrictions: “use it or lose it.”

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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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
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  • 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 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
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  • 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
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  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    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

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

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.

Pros

  • 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 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the 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