Forget about that empty middle seat: Southwest Airlines to start filling planes in December

Southwest Airlines will no longer limit the number of seats for sale on each flight, joining rivals American and United.

The new policy, which means middle seats will once again be filled on flights with strong demand, takes effect Dec. 1, after Thanksgiving but ahead of the Christmas and New Year’s travel season.

The airline has limited the number of seats for sale for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, wooing skittish travelers. American and United have been filling flights for  months, with United executives calling blocked middle seats a marketing ploy rather than a safety measure.

“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,” the airline said in a statement Thursday. “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.”

Southwest said passengers on “fuller flights” will be able to rebook to another flight.

The airline announced the policy in its third-quarter earnings report Thursday.Southwest reported a loss of $1.2 billion due to the plunge in travel demand brought on by the pandemic.

“We are encouraged by modest improvements in leisure passenger traffic trends since the slowdown in demand experienced in July,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said in a statement. “However, until we have widely-available vaccines and achieve herd immunity, we expect passenger traffic and booking trends to remain fragile.”

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