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What Delta’s Big Bet on Blocking Middle Seats Means for Flying

What Delta’s Big Bet on Blocking Middle Seats Means for Flying

The grand experiment of blocking the middle seat on airplanes has proved what we have known all along about air travel: More people care about a cheap

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The grand experiment of blocking the middle seat on airplanes has proved what we have known all along about air travel: More people care about a cheap fare than comfort, or even pandemic safety.

Delta announced on Monday that it was extending its middle-seat block for one more month, to the end of April. Delta, the last U.S. airline to block all middle seats in coach, will consider further extensions based on Covid-19 transmission and vaccination rates.

So far, Delta thinks it’s earning goodwill and confidence with customers, particularly business travelers, who aren’t traveling now but will come back. Some who’ve flown during the pandemic have been willing to pay Delta more for more space onboard. Most have been price-sensitive leisure travelers willing to sit shoulder-to-shoulder for cheap fares—on airlines not blocking middle seats.

“This is really about playing the long game and making sure that we are positioning this brand for greater success coming out of the pandemic,” says Bill Lentsch, Delta’s chief customer experience officer.

The bottom line for Delta during the pandemic has been bigger losses than rival airlines selling all their seats. Delta was the most profitable U.S. airline in the final six months of 2019. That flipped during the pandemic. In the last six months of 2020, Delta had the biggest losses, with a net loss of more than $6 billion, greater than United and Southwest combined.

This post first appeared on wsj.com

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