Delta will likely extend its block on middle seats beyond the announced termination date of Sept. 30, CEO Ed Bastian said, explaining that the policy is a key part of the carrier's efforts to protect the health of passengers.
Speaking during an earnings call Tuesday morning, Bastian said that Delta has plenty of grounded aircraft it can put to work when it needs to increase capacity.
"I'd rather add more seats in a safe way rather than by maximizing the number of people you can put in an aircraft," he said.
Delta is currently blocking 40% of economy seats and 50% of domestic, first-class seats. Southwest, JetBlue, Alaska and Hawaiian are also blocking middle seats right now. However, Delta's two legacy competitors, United and American, are not.
Bastian said that Delta's net promoter scores, a key metric of customer satisfaction and loyalty, were up significantly in June. In addition, internal customer surveys have shown blocked middle seats to be the No. 1 reason people are choosing Delta.
"Everyone appreciates it's not going to last forever, but in the face of a health crisis, that space onboard really matters, and customers are telling us that," Bastian said.
He added that Delta is not raising fares in order to block the middle seat, though he did concede that by exercising more capacity constraint than other carriers, which includes seat blocking, Delta's pricing is benefitting.
"This is to us a really important safety feature, and it's a health crisis that we're in in our country," Bastian said.