Nashville, TN.- If you enjoy flying with Southwest Airlines because they kept the middle seat open during the pandemic, you won’t like their new announcement. Thursday, the company announced that starting in December, they will unblock the Middle Seat on their flights.
“Honestly, I feel like it’s a bad idea,” Traveler Antonia Rosas said.
“I don’t think that’s a smart idea. I mean, because of the whole COVID-19, they’re afraid it’s going to spike up when it gets cold outside. So, we most definitely don’t need to be too close together with the middle seat situation,” Traveler Thomasina Jones said.
The airline says they came to the decision after a growing body of data and research showed face masks, enhancing cleaning, plus a HEPA filtration system are highly effective measures to protect against the transmission of COVID-19 in air travel.
Southwest follows several airlines, including American Airlines and United Airlines, who opened their middle seats to passengers a few months ago. “And so, I was surprised to see them make this announcement, not because I didn’t think it was forthcoming...but usually they’re the last ones to make a move like this,” Scott Keyes, Founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights said.
Keyes says he knew it would boil down to this sooner or later.
“The seats on a plane are an airline’s most valuable asset. This is literally their business, selling those seats! And so, they can’t hold out from actually putting one third of their available inventory on sale for too too long,” Keyes said.
Keyes also says just because the airline is opening up the middle seat, does not necessarily mean every plane you fly on is going to be packed.
“On average this summer, you know, 50 percent of seats on a plane were full. Nowadays it’s about 60 percent, maybe low 60 percent. And compare that to one year ago when there were about 90 percent of seats on a plane,” Keyes said.
Delta is now the only one blocking middle seats. The CEO says they will continue to block the middle seat on their plans “well into next year.”
News 4 Nashville reached out to Southwest Airlines. They issued the following statement:
Yesterday, Southwest Airlines released our third quarter 2020 financial results. Along with our financial performance, we announced that flights departing December 1, and later, will operate without an artificial cap that, through November 30, limits the number of people traveling on each flight and allows middle seats to remain open.
So why are we making this change now? Guaranteed distance onboard was introduced at a time when little was known about the behavior of the virus and to bring comfort to returning travelers. We now have a chorus of scientific studies that point to aircraft cabins as an environment where transmission of the virus is statistically improbable for two primary reasons: the uniform usage of masks; and sophisticated air systems that introduce fresh air throughout a flight with a mix of HEPA-filtered air that replenishes the entire volume of cabin air every two to three minutes.
As we continue to learn more about the virus through data-driven research from reputable institutions, we are evolving The Southwest Promise to focus on initiatives that offer the highest level of protection for everyone traveling with us including: mask enforcement; cleaning; HEPA filters; and fresh air onboard.
True to our Brand, we are making this change in full transparency with flexibility for our Customers. In fact, we’re enhancing Southwest’s flexibility by offering a refund for all Customers booked prior to October 23 for travel on December 1 or later and by empowering Customers who choose to keep their booked travel to make a change with no fare difference when we can’t guarantee middle seats will be open on their flight.
- Refunds: We recognize that some Customers may have booked travel with the hope that our middle seat block would be extended beyond November. Therefore, we’re offering added flexibility by allowing refunds for all Customers booked prior to October 23 for travel on December 1 or later. On Friday, October 23, Customers booked for travel beginning December 1 will get an email that provides an option for a refund back to their original form of payment, regardless of the fare purchased. These Customers will have until midnight on October 31 (CST) to opt for this policy exception, and the refund must be initiated through a link provided in the October 23 email delivered to all eligible Customers.
- Full Flight Changes: Customers who keep their booking will be notified two to three days before travel if their flight is booked to a capacity where middle seats will likely be occupied. Those Customers will be given the option to change to a flight (if another flight is available) that is less full within three days of their original flight at no additional charge.
We continue to uphold The Southwest Promise by requiring and enforcing face masks throughout the travel journey for Customers and Employees, ensuring clean air onboard, maintaining an extensive multi-layered cleaning program, and leaning toward our Customers by offering the most flexible policies that put the choice to travel into the hands of the Customer.
Rest assured, our top priority remains, and always will be, the Safety of our Employees and Customers.