Delta Air Lines Inc (DAL.N) said on Wednesday it will extend social distancing measures on its flights through Sept. 30 and will block the selection of middle seats and cap seating in every cabin.
The airline would keep planes to no more than 60% full through at least July, adding more flights to its schedule than demand would usually justify, citing sources. The goal is to convince passengers worried about COVID-19 to return to flying.
The move is part of a longer-term bet that CEO Ed Bastian has highlighted to investors: Consumers’ perceptions of safety will be instrumental in reviving more routine travel, and they will be willing to pay a premium for comfort.
“Reducing the overall number of customers on every aircraft across the fleet is one of the most important steps we can take to ensure a safe experience for our customers and people,” Delta’s chief customer experience officer, Bill Lentsch, said.
Delta will cap seating at 50% in first class, 60% in other cabins and 75% in its exclusive Delta One cabins.
Social distancing on airplanes has become a topic of debate. The global industry’s main group, IATA, has said airlines will not be able to make a profit if they limit planes to two-thirds of normal capacity unless they drastically increased airfares.
In the United States, the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Representative Peter DeFazio, in May urged airlines to maintain at least one seat between all passengers and cap seating at 67% of capacity on narrow-body airplanes.
While major U.S. airlines’ middle-seat policies differ, they all require passengers to wear facial coverings. Airlines have also endorsed the Transportation Security Administration’s beginning temperature checks before passengers board planes, but the Trump administration has not yet endorsed the idea.