It’s about more than just the elbow room.
The airline said the measure will help protect travelers from COVID-19. It’s one of several “layers of protection” Delta has introduced during the pandemic, like sanitizing plane cabins between flights and using industrial-grade HEPA filters to extract viruses from the air.
Bill Lentsch, Delta’s chief customer experience officer, said in a press release that several studies have “validated the effectiveness” of its protections, but the airline recognized that some customers need the extra space for peace of mind as they learn to live amid the pandemic.
“We are listening and will always take the appropriate steps to ensure our customers have complete confidence in their travel with us,” Lentsch said.
Delta is so far the only U.S. airline to commit to blocking middle seats through the end of March. Alaska Airlines has said it would keep middle seats unoccupied through Jan. 6, and Hawaiian Airlines will prevent middle seats from being booked through Dec. 15.
The airline’s extension of the middle seat policy isn’t a total surprise. Delta CEO Ed Bastian told Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo on “Mornings with Maria” last month that the airline would block the seats “well into next year.”
"We’re one of the few airlines in the world still that’s blocking the middle seat and capping the load factors on our plane at somewhere around two-thirds of the normal capacity," he said.
However, this is the first time Delta has given a specific date past Jan. 6, the day it previously said it would stop blocking middle seats.
Delta also said it would offer passengers more flexibility in the event they need to change travel plans by not charging change fees for domestic tickets excluding “basic economy” fares, not charging change fees for all domestic and international tickets purchased through Dec. 31, 2020, even if the travel is scheduled for next year, and by extending the use of travel credits for trips originally scheduled before March 31, 2021, through December 2022 if the ticket was purchased before April 17, 2020.
Additionally, Delta has launched a new interactive map to show travelers current travel restrictions around the world. The map highlights whether travelers will need to quarantine upon arrival, produce a negative COVID-19 test result or take other precautions in different countries.