American Airlines and United Airlines will stop blocking seats next month and more aggressively book flights to capacity. Standbys will also no longer be limited. Expect even fuller flights.
American + United Will Pack Planes To 100%
American Airlines currently books flights to 85%. This odd policy has not guaranteed anyone in particular a middle seat, but left a handful of passengers with open seats between them. Starting next month, that cap will be lifted.
United Airlines has never promised an open middle seat, but has blocked middle seat selection in advance of travel, filling up those seats only if necessary at the gate. Lately, that has been on nearly every flight as demand has returned faster than capacity minus middle seats. Like American, United will more aggressively sell seats to capacity starting on July 1, 2020 and not even pretend to block middle seats any longer.
You Don’t Have To Step On Full Flight…
Keep in mind that at both on American and United, if your flight is too full you can opt to take an alternate flight at no charge.
That’s great in theory, but so few take advantage because most flights are now full and with flights schedules limited, it is not always viable to wait.
Just keep in mind that American and United will continue to notify you via email the day before the flight if it expects the flight to be more than 70% full. In that case, you can move to another flight for free (change fees already waived, but fare differences also waived in this case) but cannot receive a refund.
Packed Planes = A Reprieve For American + United Employee Standbys
As part of its announcement, United Airlines told employees it would no longer limit standby travel. Previously, United would not board standbys if a flight was more than 70% full. Employees and family members had been essentially unable to standby travel over the last two months. Same at American Airlines, where the cap was 85%. The July 1st change will help many employees at both airlines start moving again.
A Contrast With Delta, JetBlue, And Southwest
As I wrote about previously, these competing models are a great business case experiment. Delta, JetBlue, and Southwest made the deliberate choice to leave middle seats open throughout the summer.
Will we see a premium charge to fly these airlines? Will it lead to more business?
While I do think airlines may be able to get away with a slight premium for open middle seats, it won’t stop American and United from filling up their planes. Capacity remains so severely depressed that demand is likely to catch supply this summer.
> Read More: Delta’s Bid To Become The Premium U.S. Airline
Expect fuller flights on American and United this summer, as both will abandon all pretenses of social distancing onboard, with focus instead of sanitation and personal protective equipment. U.S. carriers often move in lock step, but that is not the case here. It will be interesting to see if the gamble to continue blocking seats is just revenue left on the table or a smart business move that will win long-term loyalty.
image: @ethanjweiss / Twitter