Southwest to block middle seats through at least October

Southwest to block middle seats through at least October
© Greg Nash

Southwest plans to block passengers from taking middle seats through at least October as the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect travel, the company announced Thursday. 

Southwest will continue to limit the number of seats for sale to keep up social distancing. The only major airline that doesn’t assign seats had originally committed to blocking off the middle seat through Sept. 30 before this extension. 

“As part of our Promise, we are limiting seats sold on each flight through at least October 2020 to allow for middle seats to remain open to allow for physical-distancing onboard our aircraft,” CEO Gary Kelly said in the company’s second quarterly earnings report. “Customer feedback has been very positive.”

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Passengers who are traveling together and families are still permitted to use the middle seat.

Airlines are split on handling social distancing on their planes. Delta also ruled it will continue blocking the middle seat on planes beyond Sept. 30.

American, United and Spirit are not limiting their seat capacity, although air travel has depleted amid the pandemic, USA Today reported.

In the quarterly report, Kelly said revenue and booking have “recently stalled in July” as COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have surged. 

“We expect air travel demand to remain depressed until a vaccine or therapeutics are available to combat the infection and spread of COVID-19,” he said. “We will adjust our flight schedule aggressively and frequently in response to this volatile demand environment.”

Southwest earned $1 billion in revenue in its second quarter, a decrease of 82.9 percent from 2019’s second quarter. 

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The airline updated its mask policy on Wednesday, saying it will no longer transport people who are over two and not wearing masks beginning July 27.

"If a customer is unable to wear a face covering or mask for any reason, Southwest regrets that we will be unable to transport the individual," the airline said in a statement. "In those cases, we hope the customer will allow us to welcome them onboard in the future, if public health guidance, or other safety-related circumstances, regarding face coverings changes.''

United also announced a new face covering policy this week, requesting passengers wear masks throughout the airport, starting on Friday.

Updated 9:28 p.m.