Delta to unblock middle seats in May, restart other services

MINNEAPOLIS — Delta Air Lines is unblocking its middle seats in May, marking the end of social distancing on all U.S. carriers and signaling a turning point in pandemic-era travel.

The Atlanta-based carrier will begin selling every seat on its airplanes on May 1 and is reintegrating a number of prepandemic features of air travel. The company marketed itself early on in the pandemic as the health-and-safety airline of choice.

It was one of the first and longest to block middle seats, as well as disinfecting air craft with electrostatic sprays between flights and prepackaging snacks and beverages.

Delta has been the slowest among U.S. airlines to lift restrictions. The litany of announcements signals a turning point in the pandemic as travel is anticipated to increase throughout the spring and summer.

And despite consumer confidence growing as the percentage of the vaccinated population expands, chief executive Ed Bastian was measured in his statements regarding the changes.

“Don’t confuse these actions with a return to ‘normal.’ We’re still operating in a pandemic, and many of the changes we’ve made over the past year, such as strengthening our cleanliness protocols and eliminating change fees, will be permanent,” Bastian said in a statement. “Today we’re making a number of changes to our service to meet our customers’ needs, increase their confidence in travel and maintain the trust and loyalty that we’ve built throughout the pandemic.”

Importantly, he added, masks will remain critical to a reopening of the skies and crews will continue to enforce that requirement.

In April, Delta will reintroduce a scaled-back version of its in-flight food and beverage service, with mini-cans of Coca-Cola products and premixed cocktails from Atlanta-based Tip Top Proper Cocktails.

The airline said this program was designed in partnership with Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic, which has advised the company throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

Its airport lounges will gradually reopen and expand their food and drink options beginning in May through July.

“Our internal research has shown that 64 percent of Delta customers anticipate having at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by May 1, increasing to 75 percent by Memorial Day,” Bastian said. “Please continue to take all necessary steps to keep yourself, your family and your community safe and healthy.”

04/14/2021 - 9:47am