Airline middle seat empty rules – is it all smoke and mirrors?

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  • superchris

    Leaving aside the issue of whether we all think its required for a second, I was interested to read that Delta airlines making a big deal today about leaving middle seat free until end of Jan 2021.

    It got me reading their press release on the topic (link below) and I have to say Im more confused every time I read it.

    To explain my confusion…

    Delta have many different aircraft types but let me focus on just 3 for now (economy / coach class only as premium classes seem more straight forward)…
    A320s (3 x 3 seating ie middle seats)
    A330s (2-4-2 seating so questionable definition of what a middle seat is here)
    A220 ( 2 x 3 seating so potentially just one seat classed as ‘middle’)

    The press release (link below) talks specifically about blocking middle seats where they exist, but where middle seats dont exist it suggests that they… ‘Block one aisle of seats on aircraft without middle seats.’

    Does anyone have any thoughts on what that means? My only interest (and that of many of my travelling colleagues) is ‘will I get a spare seat next to me in coach’, and I find the press releases incredibly confusing on the topic. The fact that they dont simply state ‘we guarantee that lone travellers will not be sitting next to anyone’ makes me think this isnt the case despite the marketing appearing to allude to this.

    Can anyone shed any light? Are Delta (and other airlines), adopting sharp marketing practices here to create a commercial advantage?

    2 users thanked author for this post.


    @superchris, I just tried to make a dummy booking on a Delta route where I know from long experience is operated with an aircraft with 2-3 seating in coach. On the seat map, the side with 3 seats has the middle seats as blocked, however the side with 2 seats has both seats available to book. That said, there is a note at the top of the seating chart that in First class (2-2) once you choose your seat, the seta next to you will automatically be blocked out. This will be seen once you have paid for your ticket. No mention of similar for the economy two seater. So yes, I can understand your confusion. The way I read the announcement would say to me that aisle seats on the two seat side would be blocked but that wasn’t the case with my attempted booking.


    At least some US carriers are making some kind of effort to improve social distancing, despite it being rather confusing. When I came back from Greece to UK last month, BA cancelled the flight and rebooked everyone onto the next one. So we ended up on a 100% full aircraft.


    [postquote quote=1009273][/postquote]

    it makes no difference if the middle seat is left empty or not, hence why EASA has not recommended it! if you read the scientific guidelines they will clearly tell you that as air on board is pure filtered (same a s hospital theater with hepa filters that kill 99 percent of bugs and viruses including corona virus) and the air moves directly from top to bottom of the cabin then the seat next to you is irrelevant 🙂

    1 user thanked author for this post.


    Thank you Aflyingdutchman. Looking at their press release this doesnt surprise me one bit.

    As you state, the premium cabin (in this case first on a domestic flight) is simply taken care of but confusion reigns on the coach cabin where in the case of a 2-3 seating, the aircraft has banks of seats which both have and have not a middle seat.

    anyonebutba – with the greatest of respect, I purposely wanted to avoid the topic of ‘does it make a difference’ as this is highly subjective, In any case Delta themselves in this press release seem to state they believe it does by stating “Medical experts, including our own partners at Emory Healthcare, agree – more distance on board makes a difference,” said Bill Lentsch, Chief Customer Experience Officer.’

    What I would also add is that in my opinion, airlines need people to travel, but for people to travel, they need people to WANT to travel. And right now when I speak to colleagues, the question of distancing on the aircraft is the reason more people are not travelling.

    Great discussion and thanks all for their comments.

    2 users thanked author for this post.


    ‘middle seat empty’ is a marketing tool nothing more or less.
    As others have correctly stated this offers absolutely no benefit or protection to the passenger – other than perhaps more elbowroom.


    [postquote quote=1009424][/postquote]

    Yes – complete tosh.

    In most aircraft the person in front or behind is as close as the person to the left or right, so what protections it provides is a moot point.

    Nice marketing spin though.


    I book Delta regularly for my clients, and once you book a seat in a row of 2, the adjacent seat is immediately removed from sale. (in Economy as well as Business)
    Middle seats are blocked off from the start.

    I agree that scientifically speaking, having a spare seat next to you only makes a negligible difference to your chances of contracting Coronavirus if everyone is wearing masks; however if it increases people’s confidence in flying, then that has to be a good thing. I certainly don’t feel comfortable having a stranger sat right next to me at the moment, especially if they are removing their mask for much of the flight while they eat and drink. (and think about eating and drinking)

    Good on Delta for taking the financial hit, and offering this. The additional personal space for everyone is also very welcome. I believe that in the US, Southwest and Alaska Airlines are also offering a similar policy. In Europe, Eurowings allow you to pay for the seat next to you to remain free, from around 18 Euros. Surely more airlines could be a bit more imaginative like this, especially in the lower demand Winter months, and if not block off middle seats, then at least give passengers the chance to pay a small amount to block off the seat next to them? It would be a welcome additional source of income for airlines too.


    [postquote quote=1010316][/postquote]

    only in America……..

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