Southwest Airlines is to extend its COVID-19 seat blocking policy through November 30 as the Dallas-based carrier seeks to reassure anxious passengers that it’s safe to get on a plane. While Southwest doesn’t assign seats, the airline will limit the number of bookable seats per flight so that passengers can keep the middle seat open if they choose.
The airline had previously extended its seat blocking policy through October but with passenger numbers remaining unstable and driven largely by leisure travelers, Southwest is looking to woo passengers contemplating a Thanksgiving vacation.
Of the U.S.-based airlines that continue to allow physical distancing on their planes, Delta has gone the furthest by blocking middle seats through at least January 6, 2021. The airline hopes the measure will drive ticket sales throughout the upcoming holiday season.
Meanwhile, jetBlue will maintain its seat blocking policy through October 15 and Alaska through October 31. Parties of passengers traveling together will still be assigned a middle seat.
Both American and United Airlines never had formal seat blocking policies and have abandoned any effort to maintain social distancing on their flights. Both airlines justify the lack of physical distancing by pointing to a series of other measures they’ve taken including the mandatory wearing of face masks and enhanced cleaning protocols.
Southwest reported a slight increase in new bookings in both August and September but the third-quarter schedule will still be 35 per cent smaller than pre-COVID levels. The airline had originally hoped to trim its schedule by just 30 per cent.
One of the best financially prepared airlines going into the pandemic, Southwest continues to burn through an estimated $17 million per day. The airline has previously said it will not need to involuntary furlough any of its employees when CARES Act payroll support funding finishes at the end of September.
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