JetBlue Will Stop Blocking Seats on Board in January, Joining Southwest

Mark Kauzlarich | Bloomberg | Getty Images
  • JetBlue Airways said Thursday it will start selling all seats on board its flights on Jan. 8.
  • The airline joins Southwest and American in lifting the policy of blocking some seats so that passengers are socially distanced due to the coronavirus.
  • Delta plans to block middle seats through at least Jan. 6 and says it will reevaluate then.

Get ready to fight over the armrest again.

JetBlue Airways on Thursday said it will sell all seats on its flights starting Jan. 8. It is the latest carrier to cite advanced filtration systems on board as reducing the risk of catching Covid-19 on a flight.

All airlines require that passengers wear masks on board but have sparred over social distancing on board, in some cases using it in their marketing.

Carriers are struggling to drum up revenue and keep their costs down as travel demand hovers around one-third of last year's levels, according to federal data.

JetBlue previously said it would limit on-board capacity from mid-October through Dec. 1 to 70%, up from about 60%. From Dec. 2 through Jan. 7, which includes the holiday period, it will book planes no more than 85% full. Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue's president and COO, said in a staff memo that the end of its seat-blocking policy coincides with the "winter period when demand is typically lower and flights are often less full."

The carrier joins Southwest Airlines in booking full flights. Southwest last month said it would sell all seats on its flights starting Dec. 1, estimating a $20 million impact to pretax results in October and as much as $60 million in November.

"So we're not able to capture the customer demand that we're seeing in our markets," said the carrier's president, Tom Nealon, on a quarterly call Oct. 22. "So we're spilling that revenue opportunity."

Delta Air Lines plans to continue to limit capacity on board through at least Jan. 6. Bill Lentsch, Delta's chief customer experience officer, told an industry conference on Tuesday the airline would reevaluate the policy closer to that date.

"It is easy to get used to having ample space," said Lentsch. "But clearly, that's not something we can sustain indefinitely."

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