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Delta plans to continue blocking middle seats into January 2021

Delta is the first major U.S. airline to block middle seats into 2021, though the carrier plans to raise the cap on the number of passengers allowed on flights.

WASHINGTON — Delta Air Lines announced Thursday that middle seats will continue to be blocked on all of its flights through the holiday season and into the beginning of 2021, but it plans to raise the limit on the number of passengers allowed.  

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, several airlines committed to blocking middle seats and limiting the number of customers per flight for health and safety reasons.

Delta previously said it would block middle seats through September. The policy will be in place through at least Jan. 6, 2021. 

“Medical experts, including our own partners at Emory Healthcare, agree – more distance on board makes a difference,” said Delta's Chief Customer Experience Officer Bill Lentsch. “We believe that taking care of our customers and employees and restoring confidence in the safety of air travel is more important right now than filling up every seat on a plane."

For customers in parties of just one or two, the middle seat will be blocked when trying to purchase a seat. Customers in parties of three or more will have the middle seat appear as a seating option to allow them the option to sit together on a flight.

According to Reuters, during the month of October the airline will raise its capacity on flights to 75% in the main cabin, an increase from the 60% capacity Delta had all summer. The airline plans to review the policy again by Oct. 31. 

Two of Delta's competitors, Southwest and Alaska, have both committed to limiting the number of guests on their flights through Oct. 31, while Jet Blue's policy right now goes through Oct. 15. 

Delta said it will "continue to look for opportunities to upsize to a larger aircraft type or add more flights." That includes asking customers to continue wearing masks or face coverings in airports and on flights through the holiday season. Customers who claim that they have an underlying condition that prevents them from wearing a mask are required to complete a "Clearance-To-Fly" process before being permitted to travel. 

Credit: AP
Melaku Gebermariam uses an electrostatic sprayer to disinfect the inside of a Delta Airplane between flights on July 22, at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Nathan Ellgren)

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The company on Tuesday also announced it has teamed up with CVS to accelerate COVID-19 testing for its employees. It allows flight crews in lounges to use a rapid-response nasal-swab test to find out in 15 minutes or less if they have contracted the virus.

The new safety measures by Delta came nearly two weeks after Southwest Airlines announced its plans to scale back some of its aircraft-cleaning procedures in-between flights. 

As of Aug. 1, the airline has shifted the cleaning focus between flights to high-touch areas like bathrooms and tray tables.

Armrests and seat belts won't be wiped down between each flight and will instead be deep-cleaned during enhanced overnight cleaning of each plane. Sanitizing wipes will be available for Southwest passengers onboard to wipe down any surfaces they'd like, upon request.

RELATED: Southwest to no longer disinfect seat belts, armrests before every flight