On Delta Air Lines’ third quarter earnings call on Tuesday, CEO Ed Bastian said that Delta is anticipating ending its policy of blocking the middle seat on flights in the first half of 2021.
Delta, which has kept the policy longer than most other airlines, will change its policy as consumer confidence in air travel returns and it is able to begin filling its planes once again. While there is no date as to when that will happen, Bastian said that he expects it sometime before the mid-point of 2021.
“There are signs that customers are becoming increasingly confident in return to air travel with TSA counts growing each week,” Bastian said on the call. “Until then, our focus is on doing a great job at what we can control.”
Even when it does decide to start booking planes without a blocked middle seat again, Delta will still be the airline who has done left the policy in place the longest—United and American have already begun doing so, Alaska and Southwest said they will stop at the end of November, and JetBlue has taken a phased-in approach through Dec. 1.
All airlines are still hoping for another round of stimulus or financial support from the U.S. federal government to continue operating and dealing with the drastic drop in demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic (Delta for its part said it will be forced to furlough roughly 1,700 pilots on Nov. 1 if no aid comes, along with reducing its fleet by 30% by 2025). While numbers are still far off the highs from 2019, recent passenger volume at U.S. security airports have showed some modest improvement.
On Sunday, Oct. 11, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened 984,354 passengers at U.S. airport checkpoints, the highest number since April 14 and the third time out of the previous four days that passenger volumes exceeded 900,000.
The numbers, while continuously trending upwards, are down from the 2.55 million the TSA screened on the same weekday a year prior. Still, the numbers do show significant improvement from the Spring when the volume was as low as 90,510 on April 12 and 87,534 on April 14.