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Delta is officially back to selling flights at 100% capacity

May 01, 2021
4 min read
20200922_Delta 757 Zach Griff - 13
Delta is officially back to selling flights at 100% capacity
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Roughly one year later, and Delta's seat-blocking policy has come to an end.

The Atlanta-based carrier confirmed that it'll once again resume selling its flights to 100% capacity beginning on May 1, ending its year-long middle-seat block.

In recent months, Delta has extended the passenger-friendly policy in month-long increments. Now, armed with studies that suggest the risk of inflight transmission is low and combined with the rapidly growing vaccination rates, the airline believes that it's time to end the seat block.

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"The relationships we’ve built, together with the knowledge that nearly 65 percent of those who flew Delta in 2019 anticipate having at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by May 1, are what’s giving us the assurance to offer customers the ability to choose any seat on our aircraft, while also introducing new services, products and rewards to support the journey," Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in a statement.

Delta will become the second to last airline to stop blocking middle seats.

Alaska will end blocking select middle seats in its extra-legroom Premium Class on May 31. Earlier in the pandemic, Hawaiian, JetBlue and Southwest also capped capacity, but those policies were scrapped by mid-January.

Delta says it kept its policy around for additional passenger comfort. Leaving the middle seat empty was intended to remove anxiety about packed planes as a reason travelers might put off returning to the skies.

Delta's middle-seat block is coming to an end on April 30 (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Now, with more travelers taking to the skies, the seat cap could have caused Delta to lose out on additional revenue. Just take a look at the data.

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American Airlines, which is selling planes to 100% capacity, recently said in an SEC filing that its seven-day moving average of net bookings is approximately 90% of the level experienced in 2019, with a domestic load factor of approximately 80% during that same period.

Well over one million travelers are passing through TSA checkpoints each day, and flights — especially to outdoor-friendly destinations — are going out full. Assuming infection rates remain low and the pace of vaccine distribution continues, experts are predicting a meaningful rebound in travel this summer.

With demand outstripping supply, Delta would lose a large chunk of revenue from those unsold seats unless it raised fares accordingly. But it’s not so easy. The current recovery is being led by leisure travelers – a typically price-sensitive group that may balk at higher fares, even with a blocked middle seat.

Going forward, flyers can select any seat during the purchase process, and travelers should expect many flights to approach 100% capacity as the ongoing travel rebound continues.

Those who'd like to purchase a second seat for added space can still do so. You can pay cash or redeem SkyMiles for the second seat, though SkyMiles rules are written to prohibit earning miles on “tickets purchased to carry excess baggage such as musical instruments and pets or to provide extra space for the primary passenger.”

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

Since Delta basic economy tickets don’t come with advance seat assignments, you’ll want to avoid that type of fare if you are booking two adjacent seats to have some extra space.

"We take great pride in the trust we’ve built with customers by listening and delivering on what they said was most important, and that is the approach you can continue to expect," said Bastian.

Although Delta's ending the middle-seat block, it's adding a new elite-status fast-track offer, extending voucher expiration through 2022 and restoring inflight food and beverage service.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
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