JetBlue is the latest airline to back off its policy of blocking the middle seat onboard flights during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The cabin air system and hospital-grade HEPA filters make the aircraft safer than most other indoor environments, and our face coverings policy – the first among U.S. airlines – provides an additional layer of safety,” President and COO Joanna Geraghty said in a message to employees this week. “With the science validating the safety of the aircraft cabin, JetBlue will phase out seat blocks by early 2021.”
Now through Dec. 1, the airline will limit onboard capacity to 70%, and as the holiday travel season amps up from Dec. 2 through Jan. 7, 2021, JetBlue will limit onboard capacity to 85%. Beginning Jan. 8, 2021, the airline will not limit cabin capacity at all, but notes that this is a “period when demand is typically lower and flights are often less full.”
Empty middle or adjacent seats are no longer guaranteed on flights.
JetBlue began its process of phasing out blocked seating by accommodating families traveling together in “a small number of rows” where all the seats will be filled.
Southwest Airlines will not extend its current policy of blocking the middle seat past Nov. 30 and both Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines policies of blocking seats will expire early next year.
In an effort to lure back travelers and promote social distancing onboard aircraft, several airlines announced new seating policies in April, including blocking off the middle seat and restricting capacity onboard flights. Although, some airlines like United and American never made the seating changes.
The policies were easier to enforce when fewer travelers were flying. But now, as holiday travel approaches and passengers begin to rebook flights and return to airports, it’s becoming less and less profitable to continue blocking seats.
Last month, Geraghty said that blocking seats “is not something that’s sustainable,” The Associated Press reported. And Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said that the airline lost $20 million in revenue due to the policy in September. The loss was likely to rise somewhere between $40 million to $60 million in November, he said.
As they back away from distanced seating policies, airlines maintain that their cabins are safe during the COVID-19 pandemic due to air circulation and ventilation systems.