The grand experiment of blocking the middle seat on airplanes has proved what we have known all along about air travel: More people care about a cheap fare than comfort, or even pandemic safety.
Delta announced on Monday that it was extending its middle-seat block for one more month, to the end of April. Delta, the last U.S. airline to block all middle seats in coach, will consider further extensions based on Covid-19 transmission and vaccination rates.
So far, Delta thinks it’s earning goodwill and confidence with customers, particularly business travelers, who aren’t traveling now but will come back. Some who’ve flown during the pandemic have been willing to pay Delta more for more space onboard. Most have been price-sensitive leisure travelers willing to sit shoulder-to-shoulder for cheap fares—on airlines not blocking middle seats…
The bottom line for Delta during the pandemic has been bigger losses than rival airlines selling all their seats. Delta was the most profitable U.S. airline in the final six months of 2019. That flipped during the pandemic. In the last six months of 2020, Delta had the biggest losses, with a net loss of more than $6 billion, greater than United and Southwest combined.
Mr. Lentsch says Delta can’t keep blocking middle seats forever.
Here is more from the WSJ. I do get there is an externality here, so people are not paying enough for those more spacious Delta seats, as they do not take their higher risk to others into sufficient account. Still, a lot of the risk here is private, and I feel the public health community in the United States has not been willing to look such data in the face squarely enough. Is the public policy problem about minimizing “lives lost,” or maximizing “welfare,” or giving people “what they want”? Or some combination of those? Who exactly has been good at thinking through those trade-offs?
Have the pandemic population flows been into the relatively strict Vermont and California, or to the relatively open Florida and Texas?
To what extent is the real externality a kind of degradation of the public sphere, and the spread of stress and mental health problems, rather than the health of others per se?
Worth a ponder.