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MIAMI – With many US carriers adding flights to their Summer schedules, we take a look at how airlines are implementing social distancing (SD) measures onboard as passenger flow resumption is now in sight.

With travelers concerned about to how to fly safely, some airlines have announced changes in seat capacity while others have been trying to keep purchased seats as low as possible.

On the heels of a passenger rebound, carriers are taking different approaches in their recovery plans to resume their operations to meet new demand conditions.

Approaches on social distancing seating


While the safety of passengers and cabin crew remains a priority, the question now is how to ensure that social distancing policies are followed without causing too much of a financial burden for airlines.

The main approach by carriers is to limit the number of seats and add further flights to their schedules. Here is a rundown of the top U.S. airlines and their respective strategies.

Delta Premium Select Suite – PHOTO: Delta Airlines

The Big Three


Delta Air Lines (DL) announced that it will block middle seats and cap seating at 50% in first class, 60% in other cabins, and 75% in its exclusive Delta One cabins.

The Atlanta-based company will extend the measure through September 30, adding more flights to its summer schedule than demand would usually justify, reported Reuters.

Delta CEO, Ed Bastian, and CCO, Bill Lentsch said the goal of the airline was to have positive consumers’ perceptions of safety to revive normal travel and ensure travelers a safe flying experience.

United Airlines (UA) on its part will block middle seats and limit advanced seat selection options without reducing seating capacity on its aircraft.

Finally, American Airlines (AA) announced similar social distancing measures, leaving 50% of middle seats empty in economy class.

However, according to AA, its cabin crew has the liberty to reassign seating to create more space between customers if necessary.

Southwest 737 MAX 8. Boeing 10,000th 737 Guinness World Record. PHOTO: Brandon Farris.

Other major airlines


On a lighter scale, Southwest Airlines (WN) resumed some flights by June without selling all seats.

Alaska Airlines (AS) and jetBlue (B6) are capping seats and blocking their assignments to ensure social distancing.

While Frontier Airlines (F9) expected to sell seat upgrades at $39 that would guarantee an empty seat next to them, it later abandoned the plan.

Instead, the company expected load factors of about 51% by May with only 20% of its original schedule.

The challenge of implementing SD measures once demand increases


With most US airline schedules cut by 90% in May, travelers’ low demand was notorious in almost empty flights, making it easy for airlines to implement SD policies onboard once flights start to resume.

Just at the beginning of the month, airlines’ load factors were about 22%, according to Airlines for America (A4A).

To implement social distancing measures on seating during June should be a simple matter for airlines than it would be if demand significantly increased.

But first, carries have to engage passengers to make them feel that their safety and health are being taken into account, so customers will choose to return to fly. But then again, it is not about the wish to fly but the necessity to.

When the passenger rebound occurs, airlines will have to take a second look at their operational decisions to not sacrifice their incomes in exchange for health guarantees with more flights, less staff, and parked aircraft.