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Delta Will Fly Planes Half-Full to Ensure Social Distancing

By Rich Smith - May 5, 2020 at 3:23PM

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It may be harder to reserve an aisle seat, or a window, going forward.

How do you enforce social distancing on an airline with an average seat-width of just 18 inches? That could be a problem for American airlines (not just American Airlines) as states begin easing up on coronavirus restrictions, and passengers (hopefully) resume flying the friendly skies.  

One possibility would be to make seats bigger and give passengers a lot more elbow room -- but such a change might feel a bit too "permanent" for the airlines' taste. In the meantime, Delta Air Lines (DAL 1.90%), at least, has hit upon an interim solution:

Since mid-April, Delta has "blocked" reservation of middle seats on all its flights, inserting a space barrier between aisle and window. Beginning today and through at least June 30, Delta will go a step further, blocking reservations of certain window and aisle seats in order to add additional "social distance" between passengers.

Airplane cabin with lots of seats and no passengers

Image source: Getty Images.

Logistically, this will work by marking blocked seats as "unavailable" or "not assignable" for seat selection on the Fly Delta app and online reservation systems. Financially, Delta says that blocking these additional seats from use will remove 50% of seats from availability in First Class and 40% in the categories of "Main Cabin, Delta Comfort +, and Delta Premium Select."

That sounds pretty drastic -- Delta voluntarily giving up as much as half its potential revenue. Then again, with Delta predicting a 90% decline in revenues in Q2 2020 already, the airline really doesn't have a lot to lose here.

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