Skip to content

Delta will block seats into January as it tries to boost traveler confidence

Aug. 20, 2020
5 min read
Delta will block seats into January as it tries to boost traveler confidence
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.

Delta Air Lines will block seats on its planes at least through early January, addressing what it sees as a need to regain traveler confidence in flying amid an uncertain outlook for the fall.

The Atlanta-based carrier is extending its program blocking middle seats through Jan. 6 and "maybe beyond," Delta CEO Ed Bastian told staff during a virtual Town Hall on Wednesday (Aug. 19) viewed by TPG and confirmed by the airline. The move extends the artificial cap by three months from Sept. 30.

Delta is one of just four U.S. carriers, including Alaska Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines, capping the number of flyers onboard their planes during the coronavirus pandemic. Alaska is blocking seats through Oct. 31, JetBlue through Oct. 15 and Southwest through October.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for the free daily TPG newsletter for more airline news!

Delta is making some changes to its caps. While middle seats will remain blocked in general, the number of passengers allowed in economy cabins on its flights will rise to 75% of capacity from 60% on Oct. 1. The change will allow groups of three travelers or more to reserve seats together, even if it includes the middle seat.

In addition, the airline will begin booking all Delta One business-class cabins on its wide-body jets to full capacity starting Oct. 1. Delta spokesperson Morgan Durrant said this is because the cabins are "designed with more space and privacy built in."

Delta had capped Delta One cabins at 75% of capacity on all flights except those to China.

Related: Which US airlines are blocking middle seats and requiring masks?

Airlines initially rolled out passenger caps and blocked middle seats under the auspices of social distancing onboard flights. They are part of a broader ramp-up against transmission of the virus on their planes, with other pieces including mandating masks and enhanced cleaning procedures.

However, with more known about the virus, the thinking on social distancing on aircraft has evolved. Airlines acknowledge that the seating caps are more of a measure to boost flyer confidence during a period of extremely low travel demand than a fail-safe measure against the virus.

For Delta, the carrier believes it's an important effort to make travelers comfortable.

“Medical experts, including our own partners at Emory Healthcare, agree — more distance on board makes a difference,” Bill Lentsch, chief customer experience officer at Delta, said in a statement. “We believe that taking care of our customers and employees and restoring confidence in the safety of air travel is more important right now than filling up every seat on a plane."

Related: Delta says air travel recovery has stalled, hopes more flyers return by end of summer

It is relatively easy for airlines to cap bookings today. Flights in the U.S. carried on average just 58 passengers during the week ending Aug. 16, according to data from trade group Airlines for America (A4A). This is down 41% compared to the same week in 2019.

In July, JetBlue president Joanna Geraghty said only about 10% of the airline's flights were booked to its cap.

Delta's extended seat-blocking comes as it prepares for a tough autumn. Bookings are no longer climbing steadily as they were in May and June, but rather "inching up," said Bastian.

"We’re now at a point where we’re probably going to pause any additional add-backs until we see demand take a step forward," he said, but added that Delta does not plan to pull back any flights either.

Delta will operate an average of 2,815 flights a day in August, according to Cirium schedules.

Related: Global air travel unlikely to recover until 2024 as COVID remains ‘issue’ in US, elsewhere

Other airlines are also rolling back plans for the fall. Southwest Airlines to fly a smaller percentage of its 2019 schedule in September and October than it will in August, and American Airlines will suspend service to 15 U.S. cities in October before reassessing its schedule in November.

The schedule cuts come as a new coronavirus stimulus bill is stalled in Congress. Airlines and their labor unions are pushing for an extension to employment protections under the payroll support program in the bill, something that would likely include renewed air service requirements.

“I’m not certain it’s going to happen," said Bastian about the new stimulus bill, though hae added he "hopes" that it does. He estimates that additional payroll support could net Delta as much as $5 billion with around a third of it in the form of loans.

Delta has warned more than 2,500 pilots of possible furloughs come Oct. 1. Protections under the federal coronavirus aid package, or CARES Act, expire the day before.

Related: Should Congress dole out more money for airline employees?

Featured image by Getty Images

TPG featured card

Best starter travel card
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

1 - 3X points
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points60,000 points
For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee

$95

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent, Good
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.

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Best starter travel card
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

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • 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.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases