If you’re traveling by plane for the holidays this year, your top concern should be reducing your risk of catching and spreading the coronavirus. Of course, the most significant way to reduce your risk is by not flying at all. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put it, travel “increases your chances of getting and spreading” COVID-19. But if you must, you should know what you’re getting into. Science is precise that face masks and social distancing work well at reducing infections, and all U.S. airlines have policies requiring travelers to wear masks on board.
But are airlines still blocking off the middle seats on each plane?
After the pandemic began, three of the nation’s four biggest carriers ― American, Delta and Southwest ― initially agreed to leave the middle seats empty so passengers could sit at a distance. A working paper out of MIT argued this practice makes a difference: Assuming that every seat is sold. Every passenger is wearing a mask. Professor and aviation expert Arnold Barnett said that the probability of getting COVID-19 from a nearby passenger on a flight of average duration drops from 1 in 4,300 when middle seats are sold to 1 in 7,700 when they are left empty.
However, some airlines have since updated their policies, and others have never stopped selling middle seats at all. Below, see which carriers are currently blocking them off and how other safety measures differ, too.
American Airlines: Not Blocking Middle Seats
American Airlines no longer blocks off the middle seat and allows planes to fly altogether. A.A. says it will instead alert passengers when their flights are getting packed during the check-in process, giving them the chance to switch, free of charge, if their flight is eligible.
Only children under two years old are exempt from wearing a face mask, and if you decline to wear one, “you may be denied boarding and future travel on American,” A.A.’s COVID-19 policy states. Face shields are not an acceptable substitute for a mask, and masks may not have exhaust valves or vents.
For flights under 900 miles, in-flight water, canned drinks and juice are by request only and no snacks, alcohol or food are available in the Main Cabin, though you can bring your own snacks. For flights above 900 miles, complimentary pretzels or cookies and bottled water will be open in the Main Cabin and First Class.