For the past few months, the US airlines were not selling the middle seat. So they can ensure social distancing and because of less number of passengers.
But with an increase in demand airlines are booking flights at full capacity.
American Airlines, the world’s largest carrier said that “customers may notice that flights are booked to capacity starting July 1.” Airlines are booking more seats even though the number of coronavirus cases is rising in many states.
United is also planning to sell all the possible seats in the aircraft throughout the pandemic. However, both airlines said that they will inform the passengers when seats in a flight are full of more than 70%. Therefore, passengers will have an option to change the flight to a less crowded flight.
More passengers at the airport
The airlines were leaving empty seats as demand was low for air travel. And the airlines wanted to make the passengers feel safe about flying. But on Sunday there were 634,000 people passing through TSA checkpoints at US airports. It was 24% of the traffic on the same day last summer. Since March this is the highest number of passengers seen at the airport since March.
Moreover, the airlines were grounding more planes and fewer flights were taking off than last year. But now passengers are filing up seats quickly and with a much greater number. There are about 55% of all seats on planes during the week ending June 21, according to Airlines for America.
However, Delta, Southwest and JetBlue are still leaving the middle seat empty. But it is not sure till when they will follow this policy as the demand is increasing. JetBlue says it will continue until the end of July with the same policy. Whereas, Southwest and Delta said they will follow the policy till September 30.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian told shareholders at the annual meeting two weeks ago that they can change the empty middle seat policy in the fall.
“And as the business starts to return, as demand starts to grow, and if people have more confidence in their travel experience. We will decide later in this year when we start to ease up on that cap restriction,” he said.
However, last week he mentioned that it does not mean that the airline will start selling all seats on the plane in October.
In addition, he said, “Whether it’s 60% [of seats being sold] or a slightly higher number I don’t know, but yes we absolutely will” ensure that we keep some limits on the percentage of seats sold in place.
Airlines Assurance for Safety
However, if airlines are not following social distancing on the aircraft. but they are ensuring to put other safety measures in place to keep the passengers and crew safe.
There are more and new cleaning protocols, a strict policy of wearing a face mask. Moreover, they are using filters that remove very small particles including viruses and bacteria from the cabin air.
However, It’s not clear if airlines will lose some of the passengers by deciding to sell the middle seat said Philip Baggaley, a chief airline credit analyst for S&P.
“At the moment, most people don’t want to get on an airplane anyway,” he said. “Those that do have made a determination that they have to fly, or feel safe flying. Not sure how large the group is that would be dissuaded by a full plane.”
In addition, he said, “But if the recovery in flying continues, there is a greater risk that you are scaring away a more material number of passengers by selling middle seats.”
The US airlines sold about 85% of domestic seats last year. It was one of the most profitable years on record for the airlines. But the airlines are not expecting to get back that kind of demand for air travel in the coming years.