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Delta to Unblock Middle Seats; Snacks, Drinks Return

April 1, 2021

Delta has unveiled several customer experience changes for the coming months, as inflight service begins to return to normal after months of Covid-19 restrictions.

From May 1 the carrier will open up middle seat travel in economy and premium economy on its aircraft again.

Delta has been blocking middle seats on its flights since April 2020,along with many other carriers, but in recent months fellow US airlines including Southwest and Hawaiian Airlines have dropped the initiative.

In a statement CEO Ed Bastian said:

“While Delta’s decision to block middle seats has given many customers a reason to choose Delta over the past year, the signature hospitality of our employees and the experiences they deliver to customers every day have also deepened their trust in our airline.

“The relationships we’ve built, together with the knowledge that nearly 65 percent of those who flew Delta in 2019 anticipate having at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by May 1, are what’s giving us the assurance to offer customers the ability to choose any seat on our aircraft, while also introducing new services, products and rewards to support the journey.

“We take great pride in the trust we’ve built with customers by listening and delivering on what they said was most important, and that is the approach you can continue to expect.”

Meanwhile, from April 14 inflight snacks and drinks will return following “an exhaustive redesign process”. Poured beverages will be replaced with single-serve cans in the carrier’s Main Cabin, and tap-to-pay technology has been introduced for contactless payment of onboard purchases.

From early June hot food options will resume for customers flying in Delta One or First Class on select domestic coast-to-coast flights, and first class passengers on other key US routes will receive “fresh boxed meals” beginning in early July.

Starbucks tea and coffee service will return to all cabins, and alcohol sales will resume in Main Cabin.

Delta also confirmed that a new digital solution will be introduced later this spring, offering “seamless check-in, test verification and boarding for those travelling from the US to select international destinations”.

“Our customers have always been the voices that guide us at Delta, and that was amplified during the pandemic,” said Bastian. “During the past year, we transformed our service to ensure their health, safety, convenience and comfort during their travels. Now, with vaccinations becoming more widespread and confidence in travel rising, we’re ready to help customers reclaim their lives.”

The move came as one of several the airline is making to get back to a sense of normalcy. In a statement posted on the airline’s site tabbed “Reclaiming the Skies,” the CEO wrote:

With COVID-19 vaccinations accelerating, we’re hearing from more and more of our customers that they’re ready to reconnect and return to the skies. Thanks to your outstanding service during an especially challenging year, our customers’ trust in Delta has only deepened, and our outlook for the spring and summer travel season continues to improve amid strong signs that consumer confidence in travel is returning.

Our internal research has shown that 64 percent of Delta customers anticipate having at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by May 1, increasing to 75 percent by Memorial Day. As a nation, we’re administering more than 3 million vaccines each day. Our own expert, Chief Health Officer Dr. Henry Ting, estimates that the U.S. will reach 70-80 percent vaccinated – and thus achieve herd immunity – by early summer. As of this week, 31 percent of our employees have been vaccinated, and we expect that to accelerate as more states, including our home state of Georgia, have now opened vaccine access to the entire adult population.

With inoculations rising and travelers telling us they’re ready to return to Delta, today we’re making a number of changes to our service to meet our customers’ needs, increase their confidence in travel and maintain the trust and loyalty that we’ve built throughout the pandemic.

Those steps include unblocking the middle seat and allowing customers to book any seat on our planes effective May 1, introducing a newly designed snack and beverage service on all flights as a first step in bringing back more onboard food options, and re-opening almost all of our Delta Sky Clubs by July (including brand new clubs in Fort Lauderdale and Tokyo-Haneda). We’re also unveiling a host of customer benefits including new digital travel tools, industry-leading IFE content, generous SkyMiles Status accelerators and more time for customers to use eCredits they may have received over the last year…

More Bold Statements

The airline has been aggressively making bold news and statements this week as the nation comes out of lock-down but sees the threat of a fourth surge. As the pandemic left much of the country roiling through sickness, deaths and election violence, Bastion came out with some important, if not brave words Wednesday, blasting a controversial partisan-backed Georgia voting law that seeks to suppress voting privileges in that state through a variety of measures. After facing backlash on social media for lack of action against the new rules, the CEO, whose airline is based in Atlanta, sent out a memo on the airline’s position:

“Last week, the Georgia legislature passed a sweeping voting reform act that could make it harder for many Georgians, particularly those in our Black and Brown communities, to exercise their right to vote …The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections. This is simply not true,” Bastian’s comments were reported by CNBC. “Unfortunately, that excuse is being used in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights.” Bastian joined a host of other executives who slammed the new law.

“We had some success in eliminating the most suppressive tactics that some had proposed. However, I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values.”