Skip to content

Delta to keep social distancing onboard until customer 'confidence' returns

June 03, 2020
6 min read
Delta to keep social distancing onboard until customer 'confidence' returns
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 is in no hurry to lift social distancing rules on its flights during the coronavirus pandemic, extending a cap on the number of passengers on any given flight through September.

The Atlanta-based carrier will limit the number of travelers on its planes at 60% of economy seats, 50% of first class seats and 75% of Delta One suites through Sept. 30, Delta said on Wednesday. The caps allow Delta to block all middle seats on its flights.

“[Then] we’ll reevaluate, if we gradually lift it at that point we’ll see how the consumer confidence has grown at that point," Delta CEO Ed Bastian said of the cap expiration at the end of September during a Business Travel News (BTN) webinar on Wednesday. Sept. 30 is also the day that coronavirus aid package, or CARES Act, restrictions on airlines lift.

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

Airlines are taking different approaches to problem of how to keep travelers and crew safe from the coronavirus onboard planes. American Airlines and United Airlines are not assigning middle seats at booking but will fill them with flyers if a flight is full. On the other hand, Southwest Airlines that offers open seating on all of is flights has capped the number of travelers that can be booked on any given flight.

"You can’t be six feet apart on an airplane, middle seat or not," United CEO Scott Kirby said at an investor conference on May 28. "What makes an airplane safe is HEPA air filters, wearing a mask onboard an airplane, cleaning an airplane -- those are the things that make an airplane safe.”

Blocked middle seats have, effectively, become a COVID-19 marketing tool that airlines are using to try and encourage wary travelers to take to the skies again.

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

The break between airlines on onboard social distancing measures comes as the number of people flying in the U.S. creeps up. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened 353,261 people on June 1, the highest number since the beginning of the crisis in March. However, the number remains below 15% of the people screened on the same day last year.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

In addition, the average number of passengers on U.S. domestic flights hit 54 during the week ending May 31, according to trade group Airlines for America (A4A). The number bottomed out below 10 people per flight in April.

Delta's flights are averaging 46% to 48% full, Bastian told BTN. This is prompting the airline to add back several hundred domestic flights in June and July so that it can continue to block middle seats on all flights.

Related: Middle seats are blocked now, but don’t expect that to last long

Not all is rosy. Delta still expects a recovery to take two- to three years, with domestic travel leading the way, Bastian said. The airline has retired its McDonnell Douglas MD-88s and MD-90s, and will retire its Boeing 777s, in preparation for a smaller market for the next few years.

As flights do come back, Delta plans to restore its core hubs in Atlanta (ATL), Detroit (DTW), Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP) and Salt Lake City (SLC) first. Its coastal hubs in Boston (BOS), Los Angeles (LAX), New York John F. Kennedy (JFK) and LaGuardia (LGA), and Seattle (SEA) will return at a slower pace.

"I don’t see international recovering in any meaningful way in at least 12 months," said Bastian. The focus, at least initially, will be on connecting Delta hubs to partner hubs abroad.

Bastian did not comment on the U.S. decision to bar Chinese carriers from operating scheduled passenger flights to the country beginning June 16. The move followed the failure of the Chinese government to authorize Delta and United Airlines to resume flights to Beijing and Shanghai in June.

Related: American, Delta and United plan to fly these long-haul international routes in June

Featured image by Getty Images

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

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

2 - 10X points
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

75,000 bonus miles
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

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
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 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 1,400+ 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
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 1,400+ 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