Delta to add flights to keep aircraft utilization at no more than 60%

Delta Air Lines has announced that it will limit first class seating capacity at 50% and main cabin seating at 60% through June 30, following an earlier announcement that it was resuming some flights to international destinations next month.

Delta recently announced that it would be retiring its Boeing 777 fleet in favour of the Airbus A350 (pictured). Photo by Ernest Leung | AeroNewsX

The move is part of a longer-term strategy that CEO Ed Bastian highlighted to investors last month; that consumers’ perceptions of safety and a pleasant overall inflight experience would be essential in reviving more routine travel, and that they would be willing to pay more for comfortable social distancing on flights in the near future.

We have seen similar social distancing policies with airlines such as United, where they decided to block off the middle seat from being utilized on flights, which would have made the useful capacity of any particular aircraft less than normal.

Specific details on the new seating arrangements could still change, people close to the matter said on condition of anonymity, citing the uncertain timing of a recovery from the coronavirus crisis that has decimated air travel demand.

“We announced a policy on seating capacity through June 30. Nothing has been decided beyond that but we are continuing to monitor the situation and make adjustments as necessary,” said Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter.

Social distancing on airplanes has become somewhat of a topic of debate. The global airline industry’s trade association, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), representing airlines around the world, has said that airlines will not be able to make a profit if they limit airplanes to two-thirds of their normal capacity unless they drastically increase airfares, which would add to an already stressful travel experience that travelers are already subject to.

In the United States, the Chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last week urged airlines to maintain at least one seat between all passengers, or cap the seating occupancy at 67% of capacity on narrow-body airplanes.

While major U.S. airlines’ middle seat policies differ, they all require passengers to wear masks onboard, and they have all decreased their flying schedules by as much as 90% in an effort to stem a cash bleed amid diminished demand for air travel.

Nevertheless, Bastian said on a quarterly investor call that fewer airplanes in the skies could be an “opportunity for us to focus more on a more premium experience.”

Industry-wide, U.S. airline load factors have recently been around 33%, with some airlines reporting load factors in the 40% range as passenger traffic inches upwards after rebounding from historic lows. Overall traffic is still down about 90% when compared to 2019 levels.

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