Southwest Airlines Won’t Block Middle Seats in New Pandemic Policy

by Miles Jackson

As air travel slowly rebounds, the major US carriers are still suffering financially. Southwest Airlines this week announced what many travelers have feared: the nation’s largest domestic carrier dropped its (previous) Coronavirus pandemic commitment of blocking middle seats. That’s right, with its new pandemic policy, Southwest Airlines won’t block middle seats on future flights.

Following that policy, Southwest capped the number of passengers per any given flight at 66%. That meant every middle seat would fly out empty, allowing additional distancing between passengers. The airline made that move in May. But now, Southwest is selling all seats on upcoming flights starting December 1st.

What Airlines Are Blocking Middle Seats?

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines has stated it will block middle seats through January 6th. That leaves Delta and Alaska Airlines as the only major US carriers who will be blocking middle seats through the holiday travel season. Alaska promised to continue blocking middle seats on flights over Christmas and into the New Year. Both Alaska and Delta’s moves are attempts to gain sales from instilling confidence in their methods.

American Airlines and United no longer block their middle seats, but have taken heat from much of the public over those decisions.

JetBlue will continue to cap seat sales at 70% through December 1st. However, the airline is not guaranteeing that you will not be seated next to another passenger. Some middle seats will be sold to fill the flight to that 70% target.

Southwest, along with American and United rely on studies which say flying is one of the safest activities during the pandemic. They point to onboard hospital-grade air filters, mandatory face mask wearing policies and comprehensive aircraft cleaning practices.

Reactions to Southwest Airlines Won’t Block Middle Seats

Reaction to Southwest’s decision came swiftly from the public. Both Southwest’s Facebook and Twitter accounts were slammed with negative comments citing profits over people’s lives as the airline’s motivations.

One such customer commented: “I’m very sad about you unblocking the middle seat. My flights were so comfortable and enjoyed them now it will be crowded with masks and people you don’t know sitting directly next to you. Shame we as passengers can’t do anything about it. Money isn’t everything sometimes you have to do what’s best for passengers. Wish you would have waited till after the New Year.”

Twitter: Southwest Airlines Won’t Block Middle Seats

On Twitter, Southwest made the same announcement and a typical response was “I have a reservation for mid-December which I am now be canceling. I prefer an airline that values lives over profits.”

In a series of follow-up tweets, Southwest defends their decision to change their pandemic policy:

Air Transport Association Says ‘Flying’ Safer During Pandemic

The report referenced came from a press release of International Air Transport Association (IATA) on October 8, 2020.  It featured data collected from aircraft manufacturers Airbus, Boeing and Embraer. Citing the safety of commercial flying, the study highlighted the main safety features of these three manufacturer’s passenger aircraft:

  • Limited face-to-face interactions as passengers face forward and move about very little
  • The effect of the seat-back acting as a physical barrier to air movement from one row to another
  • The minimization of forward-aft flow of air, with a segmented flow design which is directed generally downward from ceiling to floor
  • The high rate of fresh air coming into the cabin. Air is exchanged 20-30 times per hour on board most aircraft, which compares very favorably with the average office space (average 2-3 times per hour) or schools (average 10-15 times per hour).
  • The use of HEPA filters which have more than 99.9% bacteria/virus removal efficiency rate ensuring that the air supply entering the cabin is not a pathway for introducing microbes.

Southwest to Hawaii?

best southwest credit cards

As Hawaii is ReOpening to tourists (no quarantine with pre-arrival negative COVID test result) a lot of booking momentum has picked up for the islands. Southwest has become a major player in the West Coast to Hawaii market. Many passengers connect from East Coast and Midwest origin. Visitors need to be careful though, as Hawaii has been citing and even arresting persons failing to follow the social distancing and mandatory face mask wearing mandates.

If you’re looking to travel, Southwest has a generous Companion Pass program and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card has the following targeted sign-up bonus offer:

  • Earn a Companion Pass (good through December 31, 2021) and 30,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months of account opening.

If you would like to have a free trip to Hawaii, well with points or miles, reach out to our award booking team at Juicy Miles. They can help you put together your dream trip whether it’s to Hawaii or some other bucket-list destination. You may want to check out global reopenings, though, first.

Final Thoughts

Southwest’s decision shouldn’t come as a surprise. It may, however, have been unexpected going into the holiday travel season. Many travelers have already booked their travels, expecting the middle seats to be blocked. The airline is providing a lot of notice here…notifying customer that middle seats will be blocked through the end of November.

Delta has committed to blocking through the holiday travel season.

Does Southwest’s pandemic policy change concern you? Do you feel that flying is relatively safer during the pandemic?

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JRG October 24, 2020 - 1:40 pm

Credit where due – Southwest sent me an email, noting my DEN flight for 12 Dec. Due to the unblocking action, they cited some people may feel uncomfortable keeping their reservation. Accordingly, they offered to cancel the reservation with a full refund. Not a deposit as funds for later. An actual refund to the card used to purchase (quite a few months ago). Kudo’s to Southwest.

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