Coronavirus has made it less likely that anyone still flying will be stuck in a middle seat as airlines attempt to help passengers maintain some level of social distance.
Across the industry, flights are generally sparsely populated, giving the airlines and passengers opportunities to spread out. The average US domestic flight currently carries about 17 passengers, according to the latest numbers from air carrier group Airlines for America.
Here's how US airlines are handling social distancing on flights:
- Delta Air Lines on Tuesday said it would cap capacity at 50% in first class and 60% in other classes. That’s the furthest formal step of the largest US airlines.
- American Airlines is dialing back on the number of middle seats it makes available for customers to select. The airline has announced half of the middle seats are generally off-limits and it “will only use those middle seats when necessary.” It will also allow passengers to move to another seat in their class once all passengers are onboard.
- United is also making some middle seats unavailable for customers to select. But the company is also not reducing capacity on flights, so a passenger could be given a middle or adjacent seat. When seats are in groups of two, the airline says it will place customers in alternating spots – for example, window in one row, aisle in the next row.
- Southwest Airlines, the only major carrier without assigned seats or different cabin classes, told CNN on Tuesday that as of this weekend, it is under-selling each flight by “roughly a third.” That allows each middle seat to potentially remain empty. But CEO Gary Kelly said the airline does not plan to mandate that all middle seats remain empty.
- Frontier announced Tuesday it is taking a different approach. It will allow customers to buy out the middle seat in their row, guaranteeing some level of distancing. Prices start at $39 per flight.