But United’s Earnest told CNN (via Inc.) that “keeping the seat next to you open is not going to make a material difference.” “This practice of effectively keeping middle seats open bridged us from the early days of the pandemic, when we had little knowledge about the behavior of the virus, to now,” Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly said in an October statement announcing the change. For months, as most Americans limited trips outside their homes, airline passenger loads plummeted to levels most of us could have never imagined. As part of the road to its recovery, the airline is opting against blocking middle seats and is instead offering free flight changes for passengers when more than 70% of seats are booked. Airlines and medical experts spar over whether or not the middle seat should be blocked. The airline is boarding passengers from the rear of the aircraft to the front, to minimize interactions onboard. This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. United Airlines is joining the list of airlines introducing policies to encourage social distancing, including blocking seats. The airline has reduced inflight service to limit onboard interaction, so customers are encouraged to bring their own food and drinks onboard. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. Here are 6 things to know about Southwest Airlines middle seat policy change 1. Spirit is not currently limiting the sale of seats on flights. Southwest customers may still choose their own seats… If you’re considering flying (or need to) any time soon, the airline you choose will almost certainly have a big impact on the social distancing involved in your flight. Gate agents are making frequent announcements to encourage social distancing, and the airline has added signage to encourage the practice in lines, in the gate area and onboard aircraft. Southwest has shifted from boarding groups of 30 passengers at a time to groups of 10, and gate agents are asking customers to scan their own boarding passes, minimizing interactions with staff. Hawaiian says it is thoroughly disinfecting all planes after each transpacific flight with hospital-grade disinfectants, focusing on common touch areas. For travel after that date, however, the airline quietly updated its seating policy to remove that middle-seat guarantee, and in November the airline reversed its seat-blocking policy. Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. American has also increased the frequency of cleaning areas it controls throughout the airport, including ticket counters, team member rooms and gates. In those cases, the airline will offer a free change to a flight with fewer seats occupied. Additionally, testing and/or a 14-day quarantine may be required for all passengers traveling to Hawaii, as outlined in this detailed guide. Editor’s note: This post has been updated with additional information. The airline is so far the only U.S. airline to commit to blocking middle seats through the first quarter of 2021. American and United adopted policies of keeping the middle seats vacant last spring but rescinded that policy over the last couple of months as demand for air travel has gradually increased. Instead, it will simply alert travelers if their upcoming flight is 70% full or more. Sun Country is requiring that all passengers and crew members wear face coverings. People like empty middle seats in the best of times, but only four airlines currently offer flights without occupied middle seats. Spirit is offering self bag-drop stations at select airports, minimizing interactions with employees. United is selling flights to capacity. Additionally, testing and/or a 14-day quarantine may be required for all passengers traveling to Hawaii, as outlined in this detailed guide. Additionally, as demand begins to pick up, carriers may continue to feel financial pressure to adjust seat-blocking policies — with slim margins, it’s hard for a flight to turn a profit if you aren’t allowing travelers to purchase a third of the seats. The Points Guy will not sell your email. However, without firm requirements from the federal government, policies differ significantly from one carrier to the next, creating a lot of confusion among travelers. Southwest is maintaining its open seating policy, but is not limiting the number of seats sold. This equates to blocked middle seats, although they are maintaining their open seating policy. American requires masks for all employees and passengers are required to wear masks as well, from the time they enter their departure airport to the time they leave the airport upon arrival. She's lived in the south of Spain, eaten her way around Sri Lanka, hiked Jordan's Petra Basin, and spelunked in the remote Caribbean. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered. “As always, Southwest customers may choose their own seats,” Southwest says on its website about the boarding process. Shannon McMahon is a reporter covering travel for By The Way, The Washington Post's travel destination. Delta is also limiting first-class cabins to half-capacity, and it is “blocking one aisle of seats on aircraft without middle seats.” For bookings of three or more people, middle seats will appear as available in an effort to allow families to select seats together on the seat map. I would like to subscribe to The Points Guy newsletters and special email promotions. Customers traveling together are welcome to sit together, including in … Airport employees and flight attendants are required to wear masks, and all passengers are required to wear masks during boarding, during the entire flight and during deplaning as well. Masks with exhaust valves are not allowed, and those who refuse to wear an approved mask or face covering may be banned from flying the airline. A number of readers have reached out to note that United, too, is blocking middle seats, referencing an April 29 email from Chief Customer Officer Toby … Passengers who refuse to wear a mask may be banned from flying the airline. You can still pick your seat and sit together, however. “Today, aligned with science-based findings from trusted medical and aviation organizations, we will resume selling all available seats for travel beginning December 1, 2020.”. (photo via Jetlinerimages/iStock Unreleased) Less than a week after announcing it would end its policy on blocking middle seats and return to flying at capacity, United Airlines defended its decision today. Its flights in December and beyond its fight amid the coronavirus pandemic and calls social. 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