One thing Delta does particularly well is recognizing market trends and capitalizing on them. Its policy of blocking middle seats may be marketed under the guise of safety, but it’s really about winning business on both a short- and long-term basis. Yet Delta’s sudden China exception route, which coincidentally is experiencing high demand, demonstrates exactly why seat blocking is simply a self-serving, temporary stop gap.
Delta No Longer Blocking Delta One Suites On A350 China Flights
“Strict government restrictions on the number of flights Delta is authorized to operate to China means seat availability remains extremely limited. To meet high demand in this market while safeguarding our customers and employees, bookings on Delta flights between the U.S. and Shanghai will be offered up to full capacity in the Delta One cabin where the Delta One suite provides more space and privacy with a full-height door at every suite and dividers between center suites. Middle seats in Delta Premium Select and Main Cabin will continue to be blocked.”
You might be temped to dismiss this news. It’s only Delta One Suites and it’s only China. All middle seats will remain blocked.
But like its SkyMiles devaluations, this is a no-notice change that overturns its stated policy of capping reservations at:
- 50% in first class and Delta One cabins with one aisle
- 60% in economy class, Comfort+, and Premium Select
- 75% in Delta One cabins with two aisles
This policy is in effect until at least September 30, 2020.
Blocking Middle Seats Is Smart Marketing
Many lawmakers and casual travelers have attacked American Airlines and United Airlines for failing to block middle seats. Photos from the occasional full flight make headlines, but what goes unreported is that most flights are nowhere near full. United expects an average load factor of 45% in July and that fewer than 15% of flights will be more than 70% full. American Airlines has been a bit more aggressive in filling planes.
Part of me thinks that AA and UA should just make the same promise as Delta because there are so few flights that this will actually impact. Delta CEO Ed Bastian claims that blocked seats are the number one reason people are booking on Delta:
— Henry Harteveldt (@hharteveldt) July 14, 2020
But Delta’s move to quietly release the business class cap on China demonstrates that Delta is not in the business of leaving money on the table. How many other exception markets will spring up without notice as demand returns?
Please note I am not making any safety arguments here. In fact, I though the idea of blocking seats in a spacious business class cabin with closed-door suites was strange from the very start.
I do, however, think that the sudden asterisk for China is an indicator of what is to come. Rather than a sudden end-date to seat blocking, I predict Delta will slowly whittle away at it, as it has done with these flights.
Delta will no longer cap the Delta One cabin on China flights. It claims this is due to extraordinary demand and flight restrictions. While true, it marks the first crack in Delta’s seat blocking policy. It also foreshadows what is to come.
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