Luxury commercial air travel, particularly on U.S.-based carriers, is an oxymoron as far as I'm concerned. At least in most cases.
But in the age of Covid-19, there is nothing more luxurious than space. And if you can't fly private, there is only one domestic carrier left guaranteeing just a little bit of that: Delta. While other carriers have abandoned guarantees of keeping middle seats open to provide social distancing, Delta has doubled down on its commitment to social distancing by extending its guarantee of open seats through March.
I'll be straight up: I have been a Delta loyalist for years, missing Diamond status this year by just a sliver in overall spend and only because I had to make several long-haul trips on other carriers last year because my home airport is Albuquerque, N.M., meaning you take what you can get.
With even more limited airlift due to the pandemic, I was forced to fly American on my very first trip post-Covid trip, to Mexico in September. The planes were clean, and they ran on time. But I had to use miles to upgrade to premium economy in hopes of getting an open row or at least an open middle seat. I got lucky. But the back of the planes were packed. As were the first-class cabins. And when my flight home was changed because of a hurricane, I had to pay at the airport to get my upgraded seats back, then send emails and make phone calls to fight to get those miles back (we're talking 30-minute-plus hold times with no call-back options).
That also reminded me that I had vowed to never fly American again after they refused to refund me $410 after I had to pay them twice for the same seat. But that's another story.
After the September trip on American, I decided I wouldn't make any more trips during the pandemic unless I could fly Delta. Luckily, when the Aruba Tourism Authority invited me down for a mid-November visit, we were able to make that work. At the time, I didn't realize how important that decision would be.
After plans were firmed up and tickets booked, cases began surging in New Mexico and around the country. I struggled with whether or not to cancel. Just as I was boarding, the governor of New Mexico announced a new lockdown.
I had already plotted out my post-trip testing and quarantine plan. But knowing I was on a plane where some social distancing was guaranteed was invaluable. I had a bulkhead row to myself on the way to Atlanta, then lucked into upgrades for the rest of the trip. While I knew that middle seats were guaranteed to be empty in coach, I didn't realize Delta had also gone so far as to guarantee that anyone traveling alone in first class wouldn't be seated with a stranger.
Except for the masks, it was like flying back in the days of more glorified air travel, when open rows were almost expected rather than a surprise.
And while I intend to stay grounded again until the pandemic eases, it's nice to know Delta remains committed to social distancing.
Thanks, Delta, for giving conscientious travelers an option.
UPDATED: This report was updated to clarify that Delta is blocking middle seats through March.