Southwest Airlines to Fill Middle Seats Starting Dec. 1

The airline defended its decision in a statement, citing several studies it said shows the risk of getting coronavirus on an airplane is extremely rare when everyone wears a mask

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Southwest Airlines hopes their planes will be a little more full starting December 1.

That's when the Dallas-based carrier will resume filling the middle seat.

Southwest doesn't assign seats but had been underselling the cabin in order to free up the middle seat to make travelers feel safer during the pandemic.

The airline defended its decision in a statement, citing several studies it said shows the risk of getting coronavirus on an airplane is extremely rare when everyone wears a mask. The International Air Transport Association found 44 cases of COVID-19 transmission associated with plane travel, with most recorded before airlines adopted enhanced cleaning procedures and mask requirements, according to a news release.

“That’s 44 people out of the nearly 1.2 billion passengers who have traveled in 2020, or one case for every 27 million travelers this year. As IATA suggests, this is approximately the same risk category as being struck by lightning,” Southwest said in a statement.

The decision to unblock middle seats came the same day Southwest reported a record loss of $1.2 billion dollars for the third quarter after the pandemic hurt the summer travel season.

Revenue was down 68% year to year. Southwest said operating revenue would need to recover to 60% to 70% of 2019 levels, double the third quarter’s sales, to break even, CNBC reports.

“This practice of effectively keeping middle seats open bridged us from the early days of the pandemic, when we had little knowledge about the behavior of the virus, to now,” Southwest said. “Today, aligned with science-based findings from trusted medical and aviation organizations, we will resume selling all available seats for travel beginning December 1, 2020.”

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