It’s interesting to follow what’s going on in the airline industry, one of the hardest hit during the pandemic of 2020. Earlier this week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control essentially told Americans to forget about traveling during the Thanksgiving holiday, which is traditionally one of the busiest times of the year for airlines, if not the busiest.
When COVID-19 became a big deal in the spring, most airlines blocked off their middle seats to allow passengers to social-distance while flying. But faced with billion-dollar revenue losses for the year, many airlines slowly started filling their middle seats again. American Airlines, for one, has had completely full planes for months on some of its more popular routes, booking all middle seats as if there were no pandemic at all.
Delta has stood out in the industry for its decision to not only stop booking middle seats when the coronavirus hit, but also announcing this week that it will continue to block off middle seats through March 30, except for households traveling together.
Southwest Airlines had been blocking middle seats, but the company announced it will begin filling them starting on December 1, to gear up for Christmas and New Year’s travel.
Hawaiian Airlines will continue to block middle seats through December 15. JetBlue has a plan to limit capacity on holiday-season flights, but not to block middle-seat sales.
American and United did not make any promises about middle seats in their briefing of pandemic measures.
According to “Risk of COVID-19 During Air Travel,” a report published on Oct. 1 in the Journal of the American Medicine Association, the risk of contracting COVID-19 on an airplane is “low.”
The report actually lauded planes’ on-board air quality and noted that passengers have little face-to-face contact.
It’s one of the more puzzling aspects of coronavirus shutdowns that Americans have been forced to deal with most of the year. While airlines are allowed to pack 300+ people on a flying tube, sitting within inches of total strangers for multiple hours, restaurants in California and other states are not allowed to have people sit inside, and even outside seating has been limited to 50% capacity in many places.