SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/CNN) — With travel at San Francisco Bay Area airports on the rise amid an easing of the COVID-19 pandemic, Delta Airlines announced Wednesday it will once again begin booking middle seats on its flights.
Airlines had left middle seats empty since the earliest days of the pandemic’s outbreak. It was a socially distance strategy to make air travel safer.READ MORE: UPDATE: Investigation Finds San Leandro Officers Didn't Follow Use of Force, Taser Policies in Fatal Walmart Shooting
But as travel has rebounded and vaccinations become more widespread, most major airlines have returned to booking middle seats. Delta was among the last holdouts that wasn’t. On May 1 that will change.
“As vaccinations become more widespread, consumer demand and behaviors show us that confidence in travel is on the rise and customers are ready to reclaim their lives,” said Delta’s statement Wednesday.
Airlines have insisted that even with the planes fully booked, measures they have taken during the pandemic have greatly reduced the threat of COVID-19 being spread among passengers. Those provisions include frequent exchange of fresh air in the cabin, enhanced cleaning measures and a requirement that passengers wear masks.
Expanded vaccine availability factored into Delta’s decision. Delta CEO Ed Bastian said the company’s research shows that 65% of its pre-pandemic passenger base anticipate having at least dose of the vaccine by May 1.
In the early days of the pandemic, when demand for flights ground to a near halt, all the airlines were keeping the middle seats open as a way to promote social distancing and increase customer confidence in flying. But most of the other airlines started filling the seats last summer.
Delta’s move is not a surprise given that the airline had previously said it would keep the prohibition in place only through April 30. People booking flights on May 1 and later have already seen the middle seat available for seat selection on the Delta website.READ MORE: Bouncing Back? New Unemployment Claims In California Down Drastically
The move also comes as travel at Bay Area airports has steadily begun to recover.
“Things are definitely trending in the right direction,” Oakland International Airport Aviation Director Bryant Francis told KPIX 5. “We are seeing stronger passenger levels on a consistent basis over these last few weeks.”
Oakland International is hardly back to normal, but hitting 40% of pre-pandemic travel is a milestone they are willing to celebrate.
“I was just flying out of Newark and TSA lines were pretty full,” said Jennifer Ilonzeh. “And longer wait times than previously in the earlier times of the pandemic.”
The numbers are also up at San Francisco International Airport, with a mix of consistent pandemic travelers and new ones.
“So since November 2019 this is the first time I’ve traveled,” said Kshitig Gaggar, who waited to travel until he got vaccinated.MORE NEWS: San Jose Launches 'SJ Aspires' College Tuition Assistance Program For 700 Students
“Airlines are noticing this change as well, and they are being more confident in number one, restoring the routes,” said SFO spokesperson Doug Yakel. “But also, very interestingly, adding new routes that they’ve never had before.”