The news comes as air travel has picked up and many Americans contemplate vacations for the year ahead, emboldened by vaccinations. Delta alone lost more than $12 billion last year after passenger traffic collapsed industrywide.
Industry association Airlines for America, which represents Delta among others, on Wednesday highlighted safety measures already in place for flights, such as mask mandates, passengers filling out health forms, increased disinfection measures and sophisticated ventilation systems.
“Multiple scientific studies confirm that the layers of protection significantly reduce risk, and research continues to demonstrate that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is very low,” the association wrote in an emailed statement.
Still, questions have lingered about having lots of people sitting near each other on jets, potentially for hours. There are competing views about the risks.
CDC guidelines already recommend against travel for people not vaccinated. Since January, the federal government has mandated mask wearing for everyone on planes. And, fearing a post-Easter surge of COVID-19 cases, the CDC’s director recently urged people to “limit travel to essential travel for the time being.”
Delta’s pandemic-related policy of keeping middle seats clear was a way to distinguish itself from competitors, who had dropped such restrictions months earlier. In so doing, there were indications it could charge a premium for its seats.
But in announcing plans to end that policy, Delta CEO Ed Bastian wrote in late March that “with vaccinations becoming more widespread and confidence in travel rising, we’re ready to help customers reclaim their lives.”
Keeping middle seats clear effectively eliminated about a third of the airline’s available seats.
Delta did assign some passengers to middle seats during the Easter travel period as it grappled with staffing challenges that caused it to cancel some flights.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday the airline added more snacks and beverages to its in-flight options, which it has limited during the pandemic.