JetBlue Follows Delta, Southwest in Ending Era of Blocked Seats

JetBlue Airways Corp. is joining rivals in opening all previously blocked seats, citing increased evidence that cabins are safer from the spread of coronavirus even as U.S. case loads surge.

The airline will make all seats available for sale starting Jan. 8, JetBlue President Joanna Geraghty said Thursday in a memo to employees. The decision follows a similar move by Southwest Airlines Co., which will sell the entire cabin after November. Delta Air Lines Inc. and Alaska Air Group Inc. plan to bar some seats through at least Jan. 6.

Carriers have moved away from keeping some seats off limits -- which had been intended to reassure passengers by allowing more social distancing -- as travel demand has increased and cabin cleaning has improved. JetBlue said recent studies, including by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the U.S. Defense Department, have shown that the chance of coronavirus transmission on board “is extremely low,” aided by hospital-grade air filters.

“Our phased approach has offered a thoughtful path forward while giving us the time needed to understand the science and stay true to our No. 1 priority -- safety,” Geraghty said.

Financial Drag

U.S. coronavirus infections and hospitalizations have surged to record levels in the last week. But airlines, which are losing millions of dollars a day as travel remains depressed by the coronavirus and changing travel restrictions, have said it wouldn’t be financially feasible to hold open seats indefinitely.

American Airlines Group Inc. resumed selling all middle seats on July 1, ending a policy of blocking half of them “when possible.” United Continental Holdings Inc. never blocked seats due to coronavirus.

JetBlue moved away from guaranteeing open empty middle or adjacent aisle seats on Oct. 15, but allowed for some spacing on board by limiting sales to 70% of capacity through Dec. 1. Starting Dec. 2 through Jan. 7, during the busier holiday season, it will book flights up to 85% full.

The New York-based airline already is allowing passengers to make changes and cancellations without fees. Customers who booked travel on Nov. 13 or before for travel on Jan. 8 or later are eligible for a full refund if requested by Nov. 27, the airline said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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