Citing recent “science-based findings from trusted medical and aviation organizations” that spread of the COVID-19 virus on planes is less likely than in other indoor settings, Southwest Airlines has announced that beginning December 1 it will no longer block middle seats on its flights.
The airline’s President, Tom Nealon says that holiday bookings are increasing in spite of the current third spike in COVID-19 cases across the country. He said that planes are safer than before to fly on during the crisis due to high-efficiency filters and strong cabin air flow. Whether this plays out as being accurate is anyone’s guess and won’t be known with certainty anytime soon.
Of course, the fact that Southwest and other airlines are losing billions of dollars during the pandemic plays into its decision. In the third quarter of this year which is usually very lucrative since it includes most of the summer, Southwest reported a loss of $1.16 billion. The carrier estimates it turned away ticket sales of at least $20 million in September and expects that amount to double in November.
The four largest U.S. airlines, American, United, Delta and Southwest reported combined losses of more than $10 billion in each of the second and third quarters of 2020.
Not to miss an opportunity to take advantage of Southwest’s policy change, Delta Air LInes announced that it plans to continue its policy of blocking middle and other seats depending on the type of aircraft, well into 2021. Delta, while also losing billions much like its competitors, is banking on increased sales now and in the future by promoting not only customer loyalty but physical spacing during the pandemic.
Via a playful tweet, Delta trolled Southwest’s decision by saying that its flights will become “…a haunted house, but they’re not blocking middle seats”.