KEY POINTS

  • JetBlue, along with Delta and Southwest, blocked middle seats to practice social distancing
  • United said blocking middle seats did not make passengers safer
  • JetBlue's revenue fell by 76% in Q3, compared to a year ago

After months of practicing social distancing by blocking middle seats, JetBlue Airways on Thursday said it will start selling all seats on its flights from Jan. 8.

While JetBlue plans to stop blocking off seats in favor of full capacity flights, it does plan to retain advanced air filtration on flights and a mandatory mask-wearing policy as ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Similar to JetBlue, Southwest and Delta also practiced social distancing onboard by blocking middle seats. 

But several airlines have dismissed the idea that blocking middle seats can keep passengers safer. United Airlines and American Airlines are two air carriers that have refrained from blocking seats, with the former calling it a PR strategy.

"When you are on board the aircraft if you’re sitting in the aisle, and the middle seat is empty, the person across the aisle is still within 6 feet from you and the person on the window is within 6 feet from you," Josh Earnest, United’s chief communication officer, said to reporters.

And now, Southwest and JetBlue are apparently adopting the same mindset.

As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, airlines have been struggling to make ends meet and experimenting to rake in revenues, while keeping costs at a minimum. The travel demand is at an all-time low, almost a third of the levels seen during this time last year. Thousands of jobs in the airline industry have also been lost.

JetBlue announced that it would keep its onboard capacity up to 70% from October through December, which would be increased to 85% during the holidays from December through Jan. 7, CNBC reported. From Jan. 8, it will book full flights, which coincides with periods when demand is typically lower and flights are less full, JetBlue COO Joanna Geraghty is quoted as saying in the report.

Similarly, Southwest announced that it will start operating flights at full onboard capacity from Dec. 1, while Delta will continue with low capacity in its flights at least till early January. Bill Lentsch, Delta’s chief customer experience officer, said in an industry conference Tuesday that this policy is open to revaluation. "It is easy to get used to having ample space. But clearly, that is not something we can sustain indefinitely," Lentsch said.

In its third-quarter results announced on Oct. 27, the passenger carrier reported a net loss of $393 million and a 76% fall in revenue compared to a year ago. Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines reported a net loss of $1.2 billion for the third quarter of 2020.

JetBlue has announced plans to go carbon neutral for all US flights this summer JetBlue has announced plans to go carbon neutral for all US flights this summer Photo: GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / BRUCE BENNETT