Blocked Middle Seats Might Be A Moneymaker


Business Insider has had an expert crunch the numbers and says airline passengers are willing to pay extra to ride socially distanced. Airlines that continue to block middle seats are not only winning customer loyalty, they might be making more money. The publication reviewed financial data from the Big Three airlines (Delta, American, United) and determined Delta, which continues to fly its aircraft at 60 percent capacity, is reaping the rewards of its position on operating an airline during a pandemic. “The conversation has shifted,” Henry Harteveldt, of travel industry research firm Atmosphere Research, told Business Insider. “It’s not that on-time performance doesn’t matter, but consumers value physical distancing right now more than they do on-time performance.”

The publication said Delta didn’t raise prices even though it blocked all middle seats in economy and every other seat in business class. It was already more expensive than its competitors and just maintained those prices. Delta CEO Ed Bastian said the airline has surveyed its customers and most of them are in the A, C, D and F seats because B and E are blocked. Delta insists keeping those seats clear was a safety consideration and not a marketing decision and that it turned out well for the airline because it was able to manage its schedules and equipment to make the best use of almost half-empty airplanes. “So indirectly that is coming through in price. But that’s not the objective,” Bastian said. Southwest, JetBlue and Alaska are also joining Delta in blocking middle seats at least until the end of September.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure SWA has been blocking the middle seats for about as long as Delta has. What I do know is that SWA has committed to continuing blocking their seats to the end of October, not the end of September as the article says.

  2. Now if only passengers would wear their masks properly. 4 of 9 masks visible in the photo aren’t being worn right. Put them over your mouth and NOSE people. Maybe they should give mask instructions along with the seat belt instructional.

    • That is probably due to some people finding it difficult to breathe through the heavier cloth masks. Also, some who wear eye glasses have issues with their lens fogging up.

      • Those breathing issues are magnified by the high cabin altitude most airliners are pressurized to during cruise. And I am still trying to find a workable solution to the eye glasses fogging problem.

        • If you have a diving store near you, they have anti-fog sprays you can use. Or you can use an online shop to get some. In a bind, use saliva on your glasses. I know, not very COVID-19 friendly. I also heard shampoo works but I haven’t tried that.

          • I’ll have to try your dive store spray idea. Any kind of soapy solution leaves a film on my glasses and makes it just as difficult to see through.

  3. As others have said, the mask needs to cover your nose too. And the picture clearly shows that people are incapable of or unwilling to follow the most basic instructions. So, keep your middle seat airlines, because the problem is the person in the seat.

  4. If you went back 9 months ago, there was likely someone getting fired for asking if you couldn’t make money by blocking middle seats. Of course, the idea sounds silly before the pandemic.

    An industry like the airlines, regulated by an FAA, and staffed by union members is simply going to spit out most anyone thinking of the box unless the managers are taught and threatened not to. Then, a few quietly creative types might survive to be around when needed.

    I’m surprised seat blocking is even a consideration after COVID.

  5. All my points are with United and Delta. If and when I fly, it will be with Delta, even if it’s more expensive and I have to go through that dreaded Atlanta airport 🙂 There are some chances I’m not willing to take.

  6. I’m not defending them, but one problem with cloth masks is that they lack a bendable metal strip that fits over the nose to keep the mask in position and lessen (not prevent) the fogging effect. Also many people who wear the disposable masks do not bend the strip properly. As a result, if you are talking, the mask naturally slips off your nose. The two passengers in the foreground of the photo appear to be talking and neither has properly fitted their masks. Not sure what the airline can do about that.

    • I use the kind with a metal strip over the nose and short of using double sided tape I still have trouble with glasses fogging up. I wonder how long before the airlines get more picky about facial hair or beards since at least one airline is getting picky on the type of facial covering they will allow. With my 2 week old beard I have noticed it is a little easier to breathe with mask on.

    • That would depend on the mask. I have two brands of cloth masks; both have the metal strips. (As it happens, they both came from China.)

      • Some of the newer cloth masks have a sewn in flap that fits over the bridge of your nose, or are stitched together across the front to better fit your curved face. Having a bendable metal strip in a cloth mask might make it harder to launder as recommend unless you wash it in the diswasher instead of a regular clothes washer.

  7. If Delta is blocking the middle seats and still making money it would seem that when Covid-19 is under control and they stop blocking the middle seat they could give the passengers more legroom and also still make money. Hopefully, airline executives will realize instead of cramming more and more into the aircraft they continue to listen to the passengers that are voting with their dollars. Passengers are flying Delta because they are less anxious when they are not rubbing shoulders with someone who may have Covid-19. Most passengers flying the big name airlines would be happy to pay a little more to be more comfortable.
    There will always be the low cost carriers like Allegiant for super low fares. However, if we are willing to pay more for a ticket shouldn’t we be more comfortable while we fly, get a decent snack and not have to pay for checked baggage? If the airlines make the flying experience better I believe you would see the the incidence of unruly passenger go down. That also would also save them money. After all, what is the cost of turning back or diverting to off load a passenger that is causing problems?
    The point I am trying to get across is- Airlines stop treating your passengers like cattle and treat them like people again.

    • The dollar is the only thing airlines do listen to. And passengers (pre-covid) overwhelmingly said, “Yes, we will accept reduced seat pitch,” just like they wholeheartedly embraced baggage fees. Every airline decision is based on passengers dollars – even safety (airlines are safe because the flying public has zero risk tolerance and demands safety). If people want the extra space and legroom, many airlines offer business or “economy plus” classes. But the vast majority of consumers have told the airlines time and time again that that they value a minimum ticket price more than 3″ of extra legroom.

  8. There is a report out now of a family removed from a Southwest flight due to an autistic child not wearing a facial cover. Now I understand airlines making their own rule for face coverings, but I wonder how long before those rules are found to be in violation of the ADA law in court, should some family challenge this in court?