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Social distancing ends at 36,000 feet for most airlines now. Filling formerly empty seats will help Delta at a time when U.S. carriers are competing doggedly for travelers.

Delta Air Lines said on Wednesday it will stop blocking middle seats as of May 1, a move that will allow it to start selling more tickets on each flight at a time when travel demand is picking up as more Americans receive COVID-19 vaccines.

Atlanta-based Delta is now the only U.S. airline still limiting seat capacity on all the cabins of its planes to give passengers more space during the pandemic, though studies have shown that the risk of COVID-19 transmission in flight is low if everyone wears a mask.

The move comes as Delta has faced calls for a boycott over its stance on new voting restrictions passed last week in the state of Georgia, where it is one of the largest employers.

Related: What Delta Air Lines Gets Out of Still Keeping the Middle Seat Open

Delta Chief Executive Ed Bastian had praised aspects of the Republican-backed law but on Wednesday took a tougher stand against it.

“I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values,” Bastian said in a memo to employees.

Delta’s decision to lift the middle seat block came alongside a series of other announcements, including the resumption of onboard snack and beverage service starting April 14.

The airline is also extending the validity of tickets expiring in 2021, and those bought this year, through the end of 2022, it said.

Shares of Delta were down 1.4% in morning trade, broadly in line with losses on the Dow Jones U.S. Airlines Index.

 

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski in Chicago Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Matthew Lewis)

Copyright (2021) Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions

 

This article was written by Tracy Rucinski from Reuters and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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Tags: airlines, coronavirus recovery, delta, delta air lines, Ed Bastian, middle seats

Photo credit: Delta Air Lines pre-flight cleaning crew members use electrostatic disinfection devices to clean an aircraft at JFK International Airport in New York in August 2020. The carrier said on Wednesday it will stop blocking middle seats as of May 1, a move that will allow it to start selling more seats. Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

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