JetBlue extends seat-blocking policy one last time, covering the December holidays

Nov 12, 2020

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At the outset of the pandemic, airlines were quick to introduce additional safety measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Initiatives included mandatory face-covering policies, increased frequency of cleanings, limiting the inflight service offerings and more. Some airlines, however, took the safety campaigns one step further by blocking middle seats.

This way, customers would be further spaced from others. At the height of the pandemic with demand for travel so low, blocked middle seats didn’t necessarily displace paying passengers. But now, with the holidays approaching — and as we learn more about the what’s thought to be a low risk of virus transmission on aircraft — carriers are slowly starting to walk back from the promise of empty middle seats.

The latest carrier to do so is JetBlue.

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The New York-based airline will return to selling 100% of seats on its aircraft starting on Jan. 8, 2021, JetBlue said in a Thursday memo to employees that was viewed by TPG. Until then, JetBlue will continue blocking just a subset of seats, as follows:

  • Through Dec. 1, 2020: Onboard capacity is capped at 70%. Empty middle seats aren’t guaranteed, as previously reported.
  • From Dec. 2, 2020 to Jan. 7, 2021: Onboard capacity is capped at 85%. No specific seats will be blocked.
  • Jan. 8, 2021 and onwards: No capacity caps.

In September, JetBlue announced that it would increase the capacity cap to 70% through Dec. 1, but stopped short of offering a specific numerical cap for the December holiday season. With Thursday’s update, flyers can be assured that Christmas and New Years’ holiday flights won’t be more than 85% full.

However, the carrier won’t be blocking any specific seats. That means families and friends traveling together can assign any seat on the plane when booking. Instead, the airline won’t take reservations for more than 85% of the available seats on a particular aircraft.

For instance, on the carrier’s 100-seat Embraer E190, 85 tickets will be sold. Passengers can choose where they want to sit, without any seats blocked for distancing. Theoretically, you could end up with 15 empty seats in the last four rows of the plane.

Through Oct. 15, JetBlue blocked all the aisles in its Mint business-class cabin. From Oct. 16 to Nov. 8, the carrier reduced that cap to just the two aisles in row 1 to promote space between customers and flight attendants. Since Nov. 8, all 16 Mint seats have been available for sale.

JetBlue is one of the last remaining major U.S. carriers to announce when its passenger load cap will end. Both Alaska and Delta plan to bid farewell to blocked seats on Jan. 7, 2021. Southwest, on the other hand, will fill planes to capacity beginning Dec. 1, 2020. This leaves Hawaiian as the only airline to block middle seats without a set expiration date.

Related: Which US airlines are blocking middle seats?

Filling planes to 100% comes as there’s increased scientific research as to the safety of the aircraft cabin. JetBlue touts the recent Harvard and Department of Defense studies as proof that “the air in our cabins [is] as safe or safer than the air in your own home or in a hospital operating room.”

While JetBlue will continue its other anti-coronavirus measures, some flyers will undoubtedly want to maximize personal space. Personally, I’ve flown ten domestic flights since the pandemic and had an empty middle seat on all of them — even on airlines that weren’t capping capacity.

With the holidays approaching and middle-seat blocking ending, be sure to check out my tips to scoring an empty middle seat.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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