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Delta to block middle seats through March

Delta Airlines is continuing to block middle seats

Delta Airlines is continuing to block middle seats for social distancing through March.  Credit: AP/John Minchillo

Delta, the only airline of the big three still blocking middle seats for social distancing, will continue to do so until March 30, 2021, the airline announced Wednesday.

The decision comes days after JetBlue announced that it will stop limiting capacity in January 2021 and weeks after Southwest said it will stop blocking middle seats on Dec. 1. Alaska Air has committed to blocking seats until Jan. 6.

Delta is the only U.S. airline to commit to blocking middle seats through the first quarter of 2021. United and American Airlines have not blocked middle seats on flights since July.

U.S. airlines have pulled back on social distancing amid new research signaling that strong air filtration on planes makes them safer than previously thought. Delta, however, says that its customers still want the extra space for in-flight safety and that the practice "adds confidence and reassurance" for future travel.

"Several independent studies have validated the effectiveness of the Delta CareStandard's multi-layered protection, like advanced ventilation and an extensive cleaning regimen, which together significantly reduce the risk of flight-related transmission," Bill Lentsch, Delta's chief customer experience officer, said in a news release. "However, we recognize some customers are still learning to live with this virus and desire extra space for their peace of mind. We are listening and will always take the appropriate steps to ensure our customers have complete confidence in their travel with us."

The move may not last long, however. In October, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said on a third-quarter earnings call that the airline would end the practice of blocking seats in the first half of 2021, and that "consumer sentiment and confidence in air travel" would determine when it would stop.

The airline reported a loss of $5.4 billion for its third quarter, which Bastian said shows "the magnitude of the pandemic" on Delta's business model.

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