Delta will continue blocking middle seats on planes through April 2021

Delta Air Lines said it will continue blocking middle seats through at least the end of April, part of an ongoing effort by the airline to limit capacity on flights and ease potential customers’ anxiety about returning to the skies during the pandemic.

The carrier said Monday it will block middle seats and limit capacity on all flights through April 30, 2021, a month longer than originally planned. It first began blocking middle seats in April 2020.

"We want our customers to have complete confidence when traveling with Delta, and they continue to tell us that more space provides more peace of mind," Delta chief customer experience officer Bill Lentsch said in a statement. 

On smaller planes without middle seats, the airline will block aisle seats on one side of the plane — so some travelers could end up with another person next to them. Customers can see blocked seats for every flight when booking on Delta’s website and app.

"Check the seat map as the seat adjacent to yours may be occupied," the carrier says on its website.

FILE - The inside of a passenger plane is shown. (Photo by Michael A. McCoy/Getty Images)

The coronavirus pandemic decimated the airline industry, with U.S. passenger traffic in January down 61% from a year prior. Delta reported a $755 million loss for the fourth quarter, bringing its total loss for all of 2020 to more than $12 billion — a company record.

Last month, the Atlanta-based carrier gave a cautious outlook for the first quarter of 2021, saying it expects to lose $10 million to $15 million a day in the first three months. But CEO Ed Bastian predicted that Delta would break even sometime this spring.

Delta hopes seat-blocking and limiting capacity on flights will help gain customers for spring travel. Airline industry officials also expect domestic travel to improve quickly once a critical mass of Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19.

"We’ll continue to reassess seat blocking in relation to case transmission and vaccination rates, while bringing back products and services in ways that instill trust in the health and safety of everyone on board," Lentsch said in a statement. 

Nationwide, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths still remain high but are trending downward from January — the deadliest month yet of the outbreak. Vaccinations are also picking up speed in the U.S. 

But as the country faces new and more contagious variants of the coronavirus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control continues to recommend people avoid travel.

"Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. CDC recommends that you do not travel at this time. Delay travel and stay home to protect yourself and others from COVID-19," the CDC states on its website.

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The agency also issued a mask-wearing rule, building on an order under President Joe Biden, requiring travelers on airplanes and public transportation to wear face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The Transportation Security Administration requires travelers to wear masks at airport screening checkpoints and said violators could face fines — ranging from $250 up to $1,500 for repeat offenders.

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This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.