In the new era of social distancing, U.S. airlines are temporarily blocking off their middle seats in an attempt to create as much space between passengers as possible. Southwest Airlines announced that it will allow for empty middle seats on flights “at least” through July 31.
Though airlines have claimed that removing up to one-third of seats permanently will be detrimental to their business, many in Congress have pushed the carriers to implement these steps to restore traveler confidence in flying.
Gary Kelly, chairman and CEO of Southwest, said in a video message posted on the company’s website Friday that Southwest is only selling tickets to fill planes to two-thirds capacity for at least the next two months.
“If we have more demand for a particular flight, we’ll add additional flights to meet that demand to allow those middle seats to stay open,” Kelly said.
Delta recently updated its policies and announced on its website that not only will middle seats be unavailable, but certain window and aisle seats will be left empty as well. This policy is effective through June 30th.
JetBlue will continue to block middle seats in rows in situations where passengers aren't traveling together through July 6.
Demand “still has a long way to go”
Kelly said heading into the fall, Southwest plans to reduce capacity by about 30%, as demand for airline travel is expected to return slowly as the country starts to reopen its businesses.
“Hopefully it won’t be that deep,” Kelly said. “But that’s what the plan is right now. While overstaffing isn’t tied 100% to capacity levels, you can make at least some assumptions that we’re overstaffed in many areas at a similar rate.”
The Dallas-based carrier will resume a number of routes this summer as the Caribbean begins opening up once again for tourism.
There are currently plans to relaunch service to Mexico and the Caribbean via Cancun, San Jose del Cabo/Los Cabos, Havana, Montego Bay, and Nassau on July 1, 2020. Other international destinations will resume pending the easing of government restrictions.
“We’re well prepared for this catastrophe and we must strive to stay that way,” Kelly said. “Our low-cost philosophy, strategy, and structure will serve us very well.”