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Social distancing on Delta: blocked middle seats and no automatic upgrades

April 08, 2020
3 min read
Social distancing on Delta: blocked middle seats and no automatic upgrades
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There are very few reasons to get on a plane right now. (Seriously, if you don't absolutely have to, please stay home and help flatten the curve.)

If for some reason you do need to fly somewhere — like if you're a medical professional going to lend a hand in a city that's reaching its COVID-19 peak — you can expect some changes to the normal procedures if you happen to be traveling on Delta.

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The airline will be blocking middle seats, pausing automatic upgrade for Medallion members, and limiting the number of customers on each flight.

Related: Your guide to airline elite status during the coronavirus outbreak.

That last part, limiting the number of customers, may not be particularly hard to do with demand for travel currently historically low across the industry. There have been numerous reports in recent weeks of flights with just a handful of passengers. Southwest even tweeted about one of its own flights that had just one customer onboard.

The other steps it's taking show how seriously Delta views its own role in assisting its passengers with their social distancing efforts.

"In the latest move to ensure we’re keeping people safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, Delta is taking steps to help customers and employees practice social distancing on the ground and in the air in keeping with current health-expert recommendations," the airline said in a statement.

Related: Delta joins American and United in slashing New York flights.

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Blocked middle seats, which qualify as business class on intra-European flights, would be a boon to passengers in normal times. Not being squished between two fellow travelers is a baseline goal for most — and an important one these days, when physical proximity can contribute to the spread of the new coronavirus. But coupled as it is with an unprecedented demand slump, the announcement of this extra space policy comes with an unusual pall.

Related: Delta Air Lines, pilots spar over cost savings as revenues plummet.

The pause to automatic upgrades may generally be less welcome news for travelers, but Delta assured elite flyers they will still be eligible for free seats up front based on their status priority. But those assignments now will be processed at the gate and will be limited in number as the airline tries to maintain distance between customers onboard.

Read more: The TSA screened less than 100,000 people on Tuesday.

Delta said it can still accommodate families and others who wish to sit directly next to their travel companions. Those passengers are encouraged to contact reservations or speak to their gate agent before boarding.

In addition to the onboard measures, Delta has modified its boarding procedures and has implemented other practices to meet its social distancing responsibilities. Among the changes: Boarding customers 10 at a time and "reminding them to add extra space as they board." More information about the plans can be found in the airline's statement.

Another change: Delta will now distribute snacks during boarding — instead of inflight — for departures from Boston (BOS), Raleigh-Durham (RDU) and Salt Lake City (SLC). Delta announced that move in a memo to employees reviewed by TPG, saying it was part of an effort to reduce flight attendants' points of physical contact with customers.

Edward Russell contributed reporting.

Featured image by Alberto Riva

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  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
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  • Annual Fee is $250.
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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
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

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • 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

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees